OTTAWA — Tony Clement has been cleared of accusations that he doctored the official record of his testimony on the controversial G8 legacy fund.
Now the Treasury Board president is demanding an apology from the NDP, which levelled the accusation last week.
“Now they’ve been shown to be a bunch of liars and I want my justice,” Clement said Tuesday, moments after being cleared by House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer.
Clement added that “a liar should apologize” and even hinted at legal action should New Democrat MP Charlie Angus refuse to apologize for initiating a “smear campaign full of lies.”
Clement said if Angus does not to apologize, “he is not an honourable member and I will be obviously consulting to see what my next plan would be.”
Angus was visiting the Attawapiskat native reserve Tuesday and unavailable to respond. But fellow New Democrat Alexandre Boulerice said there’s no need to apologize for asking a “legitimate question” about the transcript of Clement’s testimony to the public accounts committee earlier this month.
The issue arose last week when the NDP noticed that the official transcript, known as Hansard, had been altered to delete Clement’s response of “sure” when asked if he would publicly disclose all the applications from municipalities in his riding for a share of the $50-million G8 legacy fund.
At a news conference, Angus and Boulerice suggested the record must have been changed at the request of Clement or his staff, as is typically the case when Hansard is altered. Clement vehemently denied the charge and asked Scheer to investigate.
Scheer reported back to the Commons on Tuesday.
“I can assure the House categorically that no members or members’ staff submitted proposed changes to the transcript,” he said.
“The changes made were the result of normal editing protocols being followed.”
Scheer explained that Hansard editors routinely delete “redundant words, false starts, hesitations, words that might lead to confusion as to the true intent of the statement and so on.”
In the case of Clement’s testimony, the minister frequently began his answers with the word “sure,” some of which were deleted from the official transcript while others were left in.
Clement told reporters his repeated use of the word “sure” is a verbal tick, a way of hesitating while he formulates his response to questions, much the same way other people use “you know” or “OK.” He said he had no intention of agreeing to the NDP request to produce the application forms for funding.
Boulerice said Clement’s continued refusal to produce the documents shows the NDP has nothing to learn from Clement “about telling the truth.”
“We were sure that (Clement’s response of) ”sure“ meant, ’Okay, I’m ready to give you, to be open, to give you everything.’ But now we see that he’s playing games,” Boulerice said.
The applications forms are of interest because they were not official government documents. They were handmade — produced by municipalities, according to Clement — and sent to his constituency office.
Opposition MPs maintain the irregular manner of applying for funding was done deliberately to hide the paper trail and obscure the fact that Clement was directly involved in choosing which projects would get money.
Clement insists he played only a “co-ordination role” and that John Baird, then infrastructure minister, was the one who chose the winning applications.
The fund was set up to beautify Clement’s Parry Sound-Muskoka riding in Ontario’s cottage country prior to hosting last year’s G8 summit. It was used to renovate arenas, enhance streetscapes and build gazebos in towns that were often hours from the summit site in Huntsville.
The auditor general has slammed the government for misleading Parliament about the purpose of the fund and for its failure to produce any documentation showing why 32 projects were ultimately given a chunk of the cash.