Liberals seek probe into disabled 'slush fund'
The auditor general has been asked to investigate why Conservative ridings -- particularly Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's constituency -- have disproportionately benefited from a federal fund to improve access to buildings for the disabled.
Liberal MP Mike Savage has requested Auditor General Sheila Fraser examine what he called a Tory "slush fund."
He made the request after calculating that 94 per cent of the funding approved so far from the $45-million Enabling Accessibility Fund has gone to Conservative-held ridings.
In particular, only two of 89 applications for major project funding have been approved, both for $15 million and both in Conservative ridings -- Calgary Northeast and Flaherty's Whitby-Oshawa in Ontario.
One of those two major projects is the Durham Abilities Centre in Ontario.
Flaherty's wife, Ontario MPP Christine Elliott, and his executive assistant, Nancy Shaw, are on the board of directors and Flaherty himself served as a director in the past, Savage wrote in a letter to Fraser.
Savage said disabled organizations have complained that the application criteria for large projects appeared "custom-made" for the centre in Flaherty's riding.
Moreover, he said many non-profit organizations were shut out of the application process for smaller projects because of the strict criteria and one-month time frame they were given for preparing applications.
"As a consequence of these concerns, I am asking you to consider conducting a full and complete audit into the EAF to determine whether all applicants received due consideration for approvals and whether all standards of government ethics, regional fairness and transparency were met in the administration of the fund," Savage wrote Fraser.
Savage was more blunt in the House of Commons on Friday.
"There are people with disabilities who live across this country who are being shut out of the process," he said, calling it a "political slush fund."
"All these unanswered questions suggest the fund was created to help Conservatives and also suggest serious political interference."
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley insisted all projects were "evaluated based on their merit."
"What we're doing here is helping the disabled to get access to facilities to which they never had access before" she said.
"That's a noble thing ... something we're very proud of."
Finley pointed out that one of the projects that received funding was in Savage's Dartmouth riding in Nova Scotia.
"Is he saying that that's a Conservative riding? It should be," she said.
Savage later acknowledged a church in his riding did get funding -- though nowhere near as much as Tory ridings.
"My riding got one project funded ... for $50,000. Jim Flaherty got one project in his riding worth $15 million."