Who squealed?

HUNTSVILLE, ONT.—The grand wooden portico with stone accents make the Canada Summit Centre look like a resort rather than a sports complex. Inside, there’s a new Olympic-sized ice rink, a therapeutic pool and a seniors’ centre. A G8 summit logo hangs over the front door.

“Some say there’s a bit of wasted space,” Mary Spring says as her running shoes pound the rubber track surrounding the new rink.

“But there’s always people coming and going,” her friend P.J. O’Leary chimes in as the two ladies keep a brisk pace.

In Toronto, the legacy of the G20 summit is class-action lawsuits, bruised civilians and business owners looking for federal compensation.

In Huntsville, it is more public skating days, spacious change rooms and a great alternative to mall-walking — all subsidized by the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund.

On Monday, The Canadian Press cited a draft of a chapter looking at the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund that suggested the Harper government misinformed Parliament to win approval for a $50 million G8 fund that lavished money on dubious projects in a Conservative riding.

The draft reveals that a local “G8 summit liaison and implementation team” — Industry Minister Tony Clement, the mayor of Huntsville and the general manager of Deerhurst Resort — chose 32 projects that received funding. It says there was no apparent regard for the needs of the summit or the conditions laid down by the government.

This community centre, according to federal records from February, was built with $17.1 million from the G20 fund, making it the most expensive venue built. During the building’s upgrade, a seniors’ centre and a banquet hall that doubles as an early learning centre were added. The pool was already here but the change rooms have had a makeover, and a therapeutic pool was added.

“As much as I love it for the family activities, they overdid it a bit,” says Cindi Sandiland, a longtime Huntsville resident, as she surveys the grandiose front entrance to the Canada Summit Centre. “With the extra ice rink there is a lot more public skating, there are a lot more family things to do.”

In downtown Huntsville on Monday, Mayor Claude Doughty held a press conference in front of a G8 summit banner to dismiss the allegations that he got together with Clement and the Deerhurst GM to make arbitrary funding decisions.

“It not only draws Huntsville in, it besmirches the town,” he said. “I take exception and have changed my schedule today to state vociferously those allegations are simply not true.”

On the other side of town, near a dentist office and not much else, the flags of the G8 countries fly amid landscaped rocks and shrubs where a patch of grass used to be. A commemorative plaque thanks the town: “In appreciation to the town of Huntsville for hosting the Muskoka 2010 G8 Summit.”

Inside the office, a man jokes with the staff that they should take promo pictures of beautiful smiles in front of the flags.

“It’s all vote for me,” the man says, referencing the upgrades. “If I got in, I’d do the same thing. So would you.”

He doesn’t want to give his name.

On the drive from the flags to the brand new arena, small blue Tony Clement lawn signs dot front yards. There is one NDP sign.

“I don’t think the other people have much of a chance,” Spring says of the upcoming election. “He’s so well known.”

As talk of the spending spree overtook Huntsville, Toronto city councillors fumed in their significantly less picturesque downtown core.

“Up in Huntsville they got all the money and nothing happened — no scuffles, nothing. Down here, we had heads cracked, windows broken, a film studio in my ward was turned into a jail and now sits derelict, and we got virtually nothing. It’s disgusting,” said Paula Fletcher.

If embittered protesters are looking to get away from it all, they can stop in at the newly renovated Muskoka Tourism Visitor Information Centre to pick up some brochures.

The parking lot is paved and pristine, and a G8 infrastructure improvement sign is tucked away near a shed. On the front of the building, new, low-energy glass doors are handicap accessible, and inside, new bathrooms have lowered sinks with spotless mirrors. There is a new roof and new laminate floor.

All told, $260,000 from the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund was spent on improvements here, according to federal records.

“It’s good to promote Muskoka,” Muskoka Tourism director Michael Lawley says as he stands in the woodsy tourism centre that serves as the administration office. “We’re the only visitor centre on Hwy. 11.”

As for the arena improvements, those help attract world-class tournaments, he says. There’s even one coming at Easter.

The tournament is the talk of the rubberized track.

“Come up and visit,” Spring says, extending the invite to any Torontonian who feels slighted.

“Spend the weekend,” O’Leary adds.

With files from David Rider

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OTTAWA—An explosive report suggesting the Conservative government misinformed Parliament about wasteful G8 summit spending has put leader Stephen Harper on the defensive as he heads into crucial election debates.

Just as the mid-campaign revelation of an RCMP investigation into leaks of income trust tax changes derailed the Liberals in 2006, the story has the potential to destabilize the Harper campaign.

The Conservatives awoke Monday to a story by The Canadian Press based on a reading of a draft report by Auditor General Sheila Fraser telling a tale of federal largesse and deception.

The Star already revealed ahead of the twin summits last summer that much of the $50 million meant to spruce up the Huntsville location of the G8 went to irrelevant projects like gazebos and to raise sidewalks high enough to bury a fire hydrant far away from where the world leaders met.

Now comes word that Fraser concluded the Harper government misinformed Parliament, and skirted legal guidelines to approve the flow of $50 million into the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund. That fund lavished money on dubious projects in a riding held by Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement (Parry Sound—Muskoka).

Among the questionable projects funded were:

•$274,000 on public toilets 20 km from the summit site.

•$100,000 on a gazebo an hour’s drive away.

•$1.1 million for sidewalk and tree upgrades 100 km away.

•$194,000 for a park 100 km away.

•$745,000 on downtown improvements for three towns nearly 70 km away.

Harper’s political rivals pounced on the story and called for the immediate release of Fraser’s report. The Conservatives who came to power in the wake of the Liberal sponsorship scandal on a promise of transparency and accountability quickly agreed.

Yet despite the unanimous agreement of all political parties, Fraser refused to release her final version, saying the Auditor General Act barred her from doing so.

“The Office of the Audit General of Canada remains the custodian of its reports until they are presented to the Speaker of the House of Commons for tabling,” Fraser wrote in a statement to the media Monday.

A Jan. 13 draft of the chapter on the G8 legacy infrastructure fund was obtained by a supporter of an opposition party and shown to The Canadian Press.

Fraser urged the public to wait until the final version is tabled before jumping to conclusions about its contents. She said an early draft appeared to have been released by someone outside her office.

“These are shocking revelations,” Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said. “We knew they’d been spraying money around like drunken sailors in Tony Clement’s riding. What we didn’t know was that they lied to Parliament … and may have broken the law.”

The Conservatives sought to cast Fraser’s report in an entirely different light, saying it had been revised, and the “inflammatory” language of the early version is no longer there.

“I can’t say what’s in it, but I can say that the phrase ‘Parliament was misinformed’ is not contained in the next draft of that report because in fact that is not what happened,” said John Baird, the Conservative house leader running for re-election in Ottawa West—Nepean.

Baird said he hadn’t seen the final version, and denied the Conservatives put any pressure on Fraser to purge her audit of politically sensitive characterizations.

New Democrat Leader Jack Layton renewed his call for a public inquiry into the G8 and G20 summits.

Fraser was to have tabled her confidential final report in Parliament on April 5. It was put on ice when the Harper government was defeated on a vote of non-confidence that cited the Conservatives for contempt of Parliament.

That motion related to what the Opposition parties claim was a failure to fully account for the costs of combat jets, prison expansions and corporate tax cuts.

Fraser’s report may not be released until sometime after the May 2 election.

The draft reveals that a local “G8 summit liaison and implementation team” — Industry Minister Clement, the mayor of Huntsville and the general manager of Deerhurst Resort, which hosted the summit — chose the 32 projects that received funding. It says there was no apparent regard for the needs of the summit or the financial guidelines laid down by the government.

The report provides campaign fodder for opposition critics who’ve long maintained the legacy fund was a thinly disguised slush fund for Clement.

Clement issued a statement denying he and the so-called liaison team made any decisions on infrastructure funding.

“At no time were any decisions made by Joseph Klein (general manager of the Deerhurst resort), Claude Doughty (mayor of Huntsville,) or me with regard to infrastructure funding and I am confident the final report will reflect this truth,” Clement said.

The draft report says that in November 2009, the government tabled supplementary spending estimates that requested $83 million for a Border Infrastructure Fund aimed at reducing congestion at border crossings. But the government did not reveal that it intended to devote $50 million of that money to a G8 legacy fund, even though Huntsville is nowhere near the Canada-U.S. border.

The Canadian Press was not given access to the entire report on the overall $1 billion in G8 and G20 spending and Fraser’s conclusions on overall spending were not available. Fraser noted that the normal process requires her preliminary findings to be distributed to departments for “validation” and feedback.

“We found that money expended for the G8 infrastructure projects under the Border Infrastructure Fund were approved by Parliament without any indication that $50 million of the appropriations for border congestion reduction would be spent on G8 legacy projects.

“Therefore, in our opinion, Parliament was misinformed,” Fraser writes.

Treasury Board officials reportedly disagreed with the auditor general’s finding, and said the spending was booked in this manner “to avoid any delays that might occur if a new funding mechanism was created for the one-time G8 event,” the draft report says.

But Fraser says lumping the legacy fund into the border fund “created a lack of transparency about the purpose of the request … in our view, Parliament was not provided with a clear explanation of the nature of the approval being sought.”

With files from The Canadian Press
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