Liberals quash plan to investigate grants
TORONTO - Frustration over the governing Liberal's decision to use its majority to stop the auditor general from investigating $20 million in last-minute grants doled out to multicultural groups brought the legislature to a standstill Thursday as the opposition waited for the minister to show up and account for his government's actions.
The kind of hooliganism usually saved for soccer arenas swept across the legislature as critics took to banging on desks and stalling Question Period in protest that neither Premier Dalton McGuinty nor Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Mike Colle were around to answer questions.
The protest came hours after a Liberal-dominated legislative committee voted down an opposition motion to have the province's auditor examine how $20 million in grants were handed out to various multicultural organizations -- some of which are said to have Liberal ties -- at the end of the last fiscal year without a formal application process.
"This is about taxpayers' money being given out without application forms, without scrutiny, without review, without any process at all,'' Conservative Leader John Tory said outside the legislature after two of his members were thrown out in the ruckus.
"It doesn't matter who it was given to, it's the way it was given out that's the issue here. You have to ask yourself what are they hiding? What are they afraid of when they won't let the auditor take a look at it.''
The Liberals instead passed a motion urging the beneficiaries of the grants to account for their spending and to report back within six months, drawing further criticism from opposition members who suggest the timing is "convenient'' given a report likely won't be ready until after the Oct. 10 election.
"It just smacks of a McGuinty government that has been caught doing something very wrong,'' NDP Leader Howard Hampton said.
"Now they are just desperate, desperate to avoid any accountability, any scrutiny, any transparency until after the election.''
But Colle said the auditor has the authority to look at any ministry it wants and the issue will come before another committee for debate next month.
"It was this government that expanded the powers of the provincial auditor general,'' Colle said in the legislature, later adding the issue will come up for debate again next month before a different committee. "That office can look at any ministry any time it wants.''
The opposition parties shouldn't be questioning the legitimacy of the groups that benefited from the so-called slush fund, Colle said, adding he was late because he was visiting one of them to quell concerns over the controversy.
But both Hampton and Tory suggested the battle, which has monopolized government business for the last week, will wage on until something is done about it.
"This is an issue which will not go away because it's not just one case of money that was apparently handed out to an organization that was closely tied to Liberal politicians, it's more than one,'' Hampton said.
"I think you're going to find more people coming forward and talking about the lack of transparency, the lack of accountability, the lack of standards and rules and how this public money was just used wrongly.''
The grants were given to groups with apparent Liberal ties and without a formal application process. Critics also questioned how an animal welfare and baseball group qualified for funds aimed at helping new immigrants settle into the province.