Tossing around taxpayers’ money seems like an odd way to get elected.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s spending habits have become an issue.
In a damning draft copy of a report leaked to The Canadian Press, Auditor General Sheila Fraser suggests the Conservatives may have obtained $50 million in G8 funding in great part to squander money on suspect projects in a Conservative riding.
Fraser’s confidential draft was to be tabled in Parliament on April 5 but was put on ice because of the upcoming federal election.
It suggests that Harper misinformed Parliament to get approval for that $50-million pie.
Fraser’s report dissected the $1-billion cost of staging last June’s G8 summit in Ontario cottage country and to host a gathering of G20 leaders in downtown Toronto.
A Jan. 13 draft on the G8 legacy infrastructure plan exposed questionable funding that appears to be irrelevant to the summit budget.
A local “G8 summit and implementation team” — Industry Minister Tony Clement, the mayor of Hunstville, Ont., and the general manager of Deerhust Resort, which hosted the summit — chose 32 projects that gobbled up slices of the $50-million pie.
Among the questionable projects: $274,000 went to public toilets 20 km from the summit site; a $100,000 for a gazebo an hour’s drive away; $1.1 million for sidewalk and tree upgrades 100 km away; a $194,000 park 100 km away; and $750,000 for downtown improvements in three towns about 75 km away.
In November 2009, the Tories request $83 million for a Border Infrastructure Plan aimed at reducing congestion at a border crossing that was expected to attract heavy traffic related to the summit.
But the government didn’t reveal that $50 million of that money was going to a G8 legacy fund, even though Huntsville, two hours travelling time north of Toronto, is far from the border.
The Appropriation Act of Canada demands that public funds must be “spent as authorized by Parliament for the purposes intended by Parliament,” wrote Fraser.
“Therefore, in our opinion, Parliament was misinformed” about the $50 million directed to the cottage country.
In tough economic times, particularly, Canadians should be in no mood to tolerate for deceptions about where their tax dollars will be spent.
And Canadians could reasonably be suspicious about other spending plans.
Take, for example, two future projects proposed by the Tories that will cost taxpayers billions.
• The government’s get-tough-on-crime campaign is estimated by the Conservatives to cost $2 billion over five years. The money would pay for additional prisons and more guards and support staff.
Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page has told the Commons Public Safety Committee that a more realistic cost is $5 billion over two years. Page accuses the government of denying MPs the information needed to evaluate the cost of the anti-crime legislation.
• The proposed purchase of 65 high-tech F-35 stealth fighter jets remains a murky financial pool.
Harper has said the fighter-jet package will cost between $14 billion and $16 billion.
But Page estimates the package at $22.6 billion over 20 years — and possibly as high as $29.3 billion if you include maintenance costs.
Winslow Wheeler, of the Centre of Defence information in Washington, recently said the new fleet will cost almost double what the Tories are projecting.
Canadians want fiscal certainty, and honesty, from government. And they want politicians to behave like they respect that paying taxes is a burden for the average citizen.
Having respect for voters, and showing it in the way you spend their money, would seem like a far better way to attract votes and instil confidence.
Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.