FOI Request Filed on Improper GrantMay 24, 2012
“We did not go out seeking this.” – Bluewater Mayor Bill Dowson
QUEEN’S PARK – Ernie Hardeman, Oxford MPP and PC Critic for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has filed freedom of information (FOI) requests to obtain documents related to the questionable $7.49 million grant awarded to the Municipality of Bluewater even though they didn’t apply.
“Taxpayers deserve to know why the McGuinty government gave out money with no application, no public announcement and forced the municipality to sign a confidentiality agreement,” said Hardeman “The Minister of Agriculture failed to provide any explanation when asked about the $7.5 million so I am requesting the documents to get the answers.”
Hardeman filed the freedom of information requests to obtain any documents or correspondence related to funding given to the Municipality of Bluewater, as well as a request for the confidentiality agreement the municipality was required to sign. PC MPPs Thompson and Clark asked about the grant in the Legislature on May 17, 2012 but the response from the Minister did not explain the unusual situation. (transcript attached)
“Numerous sources have told us that the circumstances around this grant were questionable,” said Hardeman. “Given that it was in the Minister of Agriculture’s riding, awarded shortly before an election and doesn’t appear to have gone through the normal process this needs to be investigated.”
The grant agreement was effective as of June 29, 2011 although it was not signed by the municipality until November 2011 and the government of Ontario in December 2011. The province reportedly approached the municipality and offered the money without conditions on where they could spend it.
Two months later the McGuinty government amended the agreement to allow the money to be sent out before year end and to remove reporting and accountability requirements.
“We have a forecast $30 billion deficit and the McGuinty government is still sending money out the door in secret deals with no accountability. That’s not acceptable,” said Hardeman. “The fact that the Minister refused to explain why none of the processes were followed makes this grant even more suspect.”
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For more information, contact:
Ernie Hardeman, MPP Oxford
Ms. Lisa M. Thompson: Good morning, Mr. Speaker. My question is for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. I want to read a quote from a local newspaper, attributed to the mayor of the municipality of Bluewater upon receiving $7.5 million: “‘I still wake up at night, wondering if this is going to happen,’ he said.” The March 22 article goes on to say that, “Unlike most funding, the municipality didn’t apply through a grant application but was approached by the province.”
Minister, is this standard practice?
Hon. Ted McMeekin: We’re very proud of our rural economic development program and the funds that we’ve been able to provide to municipalities. My understanding is that this project will support economic development in the Bluewater area, and that’s good. If the member opposite is anxious to not see that money extended to that municipality, perhaps she could get the council to say that they don’t want it, but I doubt very much that’s going to happen.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary? The member from Leeds–Grenville.
Mr. Steve Clark: Thank you. Minister, four years ago, right before an election, the Minister of Citizenship was caught shovelling money out the door, like the million-dollar cricket club grant, without bothering with things like applications or accountability.
The reckless use of taxpayers’ money doesn’t stop there. The previous Minister of Agriculture signed the formal agreement with the municipality of Bluewater and you amended it less than two months later to rush the cash out the door, and took reporting and accountability measures out of the agreement. Minister, something isn’t right. The ministry never announced this money and reportedly had the municipality sign a confidentiality agreement. Will you ask the auditor to look into this, or, if you have details of the grant, share them with the people in the Legislature?
Hon. Ted McMeekin: I’m a little confused. This is the party opposite that wanted to stop the uploading to the province. This is the party opposite that, in the election campaign, wouldn’t stand in their place and make a commitment to municipalities like Bluewater. Our government is proud of the strategic investments that we’ve made in the municipality of Bluewater in support of the economic development in that region.
This area has faced significant barriers. I’ll tell you, notwithstanding the—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): All of you, come to order.
Hon. Ted McMeekin: —mischievousness of the question, they were very, very pleased to get the money.