$3.1 billion can’t be sloughed off

The $3.1-billion loss of tax money by the federal government to protect us from terrorist attacks is not quite as bad as the first headlines suggested. But for a Conservative government that presents itself as a careful fiscal steward, it’s still pretty embarrassing.

The $3.1-billion loss of tax money by the federal government to protect us from terrorist attacks is not quite as bad as the first headlines suggested.

But for a Conservative government that presents itself as a careful fiscal steward, it’s still pretty embarrassing.

Federal Auditor General Michael Ferguson reported this week that the government cannot explain how it spent billions of dollars earmarked to protect us following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

His team looked at the files covering public safety and anti-terrorism spending between 2001 and 2009.

Ottawa allocated $12.9 billion during that period, but only $9.8 billion can be clearly accounted for, Ferguson reported this week.

It’s important to remember that Stephen Harper’s Tories were not in government when those terrorist assaults took place.

His government has held power since February 2006, about two-thirds of the time since terrorists attacked the New York’s twin towers.

It’s also important to know that the federal auditor general’s findings on this file did not disclose fraudulent or extravagantly wasteful spending.

What he did reveal, however, is still pretty shameful for two national political parties that try to present themselves as careful stewards of our hard-earned tax money.

Of course, we know that there can be a big gap between image and reality.

Memories of the fake lake built for the 2010 G-8 summit and expensive new public restrooms in Tony Clement’s riding that were nowhere remotely close to the summit site still resonate in the Canadian consciousness as lunatic public spending.

The official federal Opposition, the New Democratic Party, gets a free pass here and the ability to slag both the Tories and their Liberal predecessors on this file, having never carried the mantle of power in the national legislature.

Newly minted Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also gets a free ride, having only been a member of Parliament since October 2008.

Tony Clement is now minister responsible for the Treasury Board, which disburses approved government spending.

He properly noted this week “there is no indication by the auditor-general that any funds have gone missing, that any funds have been misappropriated or that any funds have been misspent.”

While true, that’s hardly reassuring, especially for a government that presents itself as the adults in the House of Commons with solid business leadership skills.

Shortcomings on the public security front are doubly troubling in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Boston and arrests of two men allegedly plotting to blow up a Via Rail train in Canada.

The missing money was distributed for the Public Security Anti-Terrorism Initiative, which was created in the wake of 9/11.

That program had five key goals: deter, detect and remove terrorists; protect Canadian infrastructure; work closely with the United States and our allies.

Money for advancing these goals was funneled through 35 federal departments and agencies.

In the period covered by the auditor general’s report, $12.9 billion was allocated by the Treasury Board, to advance its goals, but only $9.8 billion was demonstrably spent on anti-terrorism activities.

Evaluations conducted on those projects were given good grades.

Some of the remaining $3.1 billion was shifted to other priorities.

But the auditor general could find no records on precisely if, how and when that money was used. Ferguson’s report also uncovered worrisome security flaws.

He studied 300 contracts between the federal government and outside firms.

In 30 per cent of those cases, security documentation was missing or incomplete.

Shockingly, the National Defence Department was the worst offender on this front.

On the positive side, almost 90 per cent of the allocated spending was monitored and found to be in synch with overarching government goals.

By Clement’s reckoning, that’s a mark of success.

He says the $3.1-billion deficiency is just a matter of bad bookkeeping.

Try paying only 90 per cent of your federal taxes and declaring that sufficient.

Clement and his Tory colleagues would call it a crime.

Joe McLaughlin is a retired former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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