As the Tory caucus gathers for its policy convention, it would do well to contemplate the damage done to the Conservative brand as prudent financial managers. With some luck, voters will not remember too clearly former auditor general Sheila Fraser’s just-released and much-anticipated report on Expenditures for the 2010 G8 and G20 Summits and the inference by the mainstream media that the Harper government spent money irresponsibly and hid spending from Parliament.
The media will no doubt focus on the following:
Nearly $50-million was spent on projects in Minister Tony Clement’s Huntsville riding, and there is implied criticism that the government kept Parliament in the dark about the money. The audit found:
The funding request presented to Parliament for the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund was included within the Supplementary Estimates for Infrastructure Canada under the Border Infrastructure Fund relating to investments in infrastructure to reduce border congestion. This categorization did not clearly or transparently identify the nature of the approval being sought for G8 infrastructure project expenditures or explain that additional terms and conditions were created to accommodate the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund in lieu of those in place under the Border Infrastructure Fund.
The should be taken in context, that is, the money was spent in Canada, for the benefit of some Canadians and was a small portion of the total expenditure. We should be mindful of the fact the money did not disappear into someone’s private bank account. To dwell on this issue as many in the media seem to be doing is sort of letting the tail wag the dog.
One radio station states that:
“the report alleges Clement and fellow minister John Baird were allowed to spend the money on projects of their choice without any documentation or consultation with department officials.”
I suppose one can find fault with this, but both men were senior cabinet ministers, and they were not spending the money on themselves, and I cannot find where the audit report claims that they spent the money inappropriately.
The good news from the auditor general is that only $664 million—61 per cent of the $1.1 billion approved by parliament—was actually spent. This is a major relief, as far as I’m concerned.
Here are the report’s conclusions in full, make of them what you will:
1.48 Departments requested and received approval for $1.1 billion in funding for G8 and G20 summit activities over two fiscal years covering expenses for personnel, operations, capital equipment, and agreements with other public sector organizations. Total costs are projected to be $664 million, or only 61 percent of the funding approved.
1.49 Plans and budgets for the G8 and G20 summits were prepared within a limited time frame and with incomplete information on which to base cost estimates. Because departments needed to work quickly to submit requests for funding, and had to plan with incomplete or changing information, the requests for funds were significant and resulted in departments overestimating their needs.
1.50 With the exception of a lack of an overall assessment, we found that in the unique and challenging conditions under which departments worked, there was reasonable senior management challenge of departmental business plans in these circumstances.
1.51 Funding for summit activities was divided among 14 departments organized under two lead entities responsible for different components—security, and hosting and organizing. As no single organization was responsible for overseeing funding and spending for summit activities, there was no consolidated information provided to Parliament on how much funding was being allocated to departments.
1.52 The summit expenditures we sampled showed that the costs recorded were for the purposes for which funding was approved.
The G8/G20 summits were a bit of a mess, and we’d better get a lot better at holding such events, if we’re to hold up our end of the bargain as important members of the G8 and G20. Our civil authorities seem to have lost the knack to do anything quickly and efficiently, not to mention inexpensively. We used to be able to do such things, but that seems to be a thing of the past.
We are new at this and, one hopes, we’ll get better at estimating the cost of such events. Could we have done better? I believe so. Will we do better next time? I believe we will.