Tories want probe of 'slush fund' grants
TORONTO - Ontario's opposition parties complained Friday that they still can't get answers about grants from the Liberal government to multicultural groups that they say have close ties to the Liberal party.
Conservative Leader John Tory said he wants the provincial auditor general to investigate grants the government gave to over 30 different groups at the end of the last fiscal year.
"I think there's a very bad smell that is permeating Queen's Park on this,'' Tory said.
"And I think it's incumbent on Mr. McGuinty to come clean, clear the air, and allow people to see how this money is being handed out.''
Speaking in Barrie, Ont., Friday, Premier Dalton McGuinty said the Opposition knows that the auditor general can look at the government's books anytime.
McGuinty admitted that the government needs to implement new rules governing how it allocates money left over at the end of the fiscal year, similar to the rules in place for all other government expenditures.
"Every once in a while there's going to be a little bit of extra money at the end of the year,'' he said.
"We've got all kinds of pressing demands for capital dollars. I think we should look to see if we can formalize that process in the way that we have the application process for operating dollars.''
McGuinty said Immigration and Citizenship Minister Michael Colle made a judgment call on the grants, and he stood by the minister's actions.
Colle was not available to comment Friday.
The Conservatives and New Democrats have been demanding answers for days on two specific grants that they say went to groups with documented links to the Liberal party.
An Iranian-Canadian group was given $200,000 to build a community centre in Richmond Hill, Ont., north of Toronto, which has not been built.
The New Democrats said the group's board of directors includes the president of the Liberals' local riding association, and the candidate who intends to run for the Liberals in the Oct. 10 provincial election.
Another grant of $250,000 went to the Bengali Cultural Society in Toronto after a recommendation from Liberal MP Maria Minna, but other Bangladeshi groups said they've never heard of the society.
New Democrat Michael Prue said Friday that the public deserves an explanation, and hasn't been getting one from the Liberal government.
"If (Premier) Dalton McGuinty has an explanation for this, I'd love to see it,'' said Prue.
"Liberal party activists have been handed hundreds of thousands of dollars without any paperwork or anything to show for it.''
Colle has said the money for both grants came from some unexpected, last-minute funding from the finance ministry last year, and that's why there was no paper trail or application process.
Tory said he suspected there were no formal applications or criteria to determine which of the hundreds of groups that ask the government for money should get it.
"My guess is, since he won't produce them, that either there aren't any application forms or criteria at all, or that they're busy drawing them up as we speak.''
McGuinty dismissed Tory's criticism, and even though the Liberals could not produce an application form for the grants, the Premier said there was a process for groups to apply for money.
"I know that there were in fact eligibility requirements in place,'' he said.
"I don't have them off the top of my head.''