As Tony Clement sits in stony silence, like a petulant child, refusing to admit he was the one who stole the cookie, despite the crumbs on his face; others are having to defend the indefensible.
The 50 million dollars that was misappropriated and spent lavishly in his riding with little or no oversight.
Many of the projects were questionable, though John Baird claims to have approved everyone of them, and that everyone of them is backed up with the proper paperwork.
Nonetheless, a receipted lighthouse on a stump, is still just a lighthouse on a stump.
Not to diminish the veritable theft of taxpayers money, there is a more serious crime here that should not go unpunished. This is the crime committed against the people of Parry Sound - Muskoka. The ones that Tony Clement is supposed to be representing, and whose interests should be his concern.
The area's picturesque shorelines, captivating scenery and tranquil settings, provide a backdrop for one of the poorest regions in the country.
The District of Parry Sound Poverty Reduction Network, addresses issues that are in direct contrast to the extravagant lifestyles of the often famous summer residents.
And as is often the case, in an economic downturn, those already suffering are further victimized by cuts to essential services. Even those working full time often "cannot meet basic costs of safe shelter and healthy food". And while housing costs in the area are comparable to many larger urban centres, the salaries are not. Most work is seasonal, in the hospitality sector, serving the needs of the summer well to dos.
Yet the money spent by Clement went to the benefit of the temporary residents, not to those struggling to survive year round.
How easy will it be for them to acquire additional funding, when they've already blown the bank on things that only favor an elite few?
What good is an expensive new sign to a parent out of work and out of options? A gazebo to a family unable to secure adequate housing? Or a paved road to nowhere, that could have at least been built to provide a more comfortable trip to the nearest food bank.
I spoke with Tami Boudreau of the DPSPRN, and she described the many hardships facing the people in her area. But she also spoke of their enormous generosity and strength of character. The anguish in her voice was palpable as she related the frustrations of trying to help so many with so little.
Boudreau is a "transplant" to Parry Sound-Muskoka, but you'd never know it. Her soul is there.
The DPSPRN, has a website, where you can download a copy of The District of Parry Sound Speaks Out on Poverty: A Call to Action.
The site is currently down for renovation, but I'm told will be up and running again soon. Boudreau sent me a copy of their report and it's absolutely heartbreaking, making Clement's actions all the more appalling.
Watching him and Baird together, promising to do better and taking the report of the Auditor General under advisement, is deja vu for Ontario residents. A similar scene played out when they were in the government of Mike Harris, and again the money was stolen from those who had so little of it.
When John Baird tried to privatize social services, money flowed to Anderson Consulting, the firm that destroyed Enron. After they were exposed, Anderson quickly changed their name to Accenture, but their questionable actions in the name of profit continued.
In Ontario the money fell out of the holes in the pockets of those who needed it, and landed right in the pockets of the Valentino suits, of those who didn't.
For the third time since 1998, Ontario's provincial auditor has sharply criticized the government's dealings with Accenture. Auditor Erik Peters called the firm's social assistance system "seriously flawed" and "a bad deal for taxpayers." The contract has cost more than $400 million - and counting. The original cost was supposed to be capped at $180 million. Peters called payments to Accenture "questionable" because savings on which the payments were based "were exaggerated." (1)Yet those on social assistance were deemed to be the criminals. Government posters sought help in tracking down "welfare fraud", and neighbours were encouraged to turn in neighbours. Even the staff at social services were suspect, creating even bigger profits for Anderson/Accenture.
In early March 2000, the Ontario government fitted social services workers with tracking devices in a 16- week trial to track their activities virtually every minute of every day. These "Big Brotherish" boxes, the brainchild of Accenture, would beep several times every hour, and workers would have to punch in a code to indicate what they were doing at that moment. (1)How could they possibly find the time to help those seeking help?
Under the Ontario Government's Business Transformation Project (privatizing of services), Auditor Erik Peters revealed that:
... the cost ratio of having Accenture do the work rather than public servants was 6 to 1 and that in 2000 the Province realized savings of $89.5 million [much of this from the continued gutting of access to welfare payments], but the government had paid Accenture $193 million. This statement of the Auditor General was part of a larger condemnation of the Tory government's overuse of private consultants throughout its Departments. (2)(Some things never change).
The Harris government created no less than 800 new rules for welfare recipients, cutting thousands from its ranks. Yet not only did Accenture keep the $89.5 million that should have gone to the disadvantaged, but charged us an additional $103.5 million to do it.
Peters noted that many of the expenditures were not only "questionable and unnecessary" but were "unreceipted". He also complained of how slow it was for the Harris government to address the alarming situation, including the issue of the expensive computer that Accenture sold to us, that never worked. (3)
Of course, addressing these issues might have stopped the flow of money from Accenture to the Conservative re-election campaign. ("Tory Welfare Donations Under Fire", Hamilton Spectator, October 25, 2001 and "Consulting Firm Boosts PC Coffers", Richard Brennan, Toronto Star, October 25th, 2001) Couldn't have that.
So just as Baird ignored the Auditor's report then, he will ignore the Auditor General's report now.
I'm glad that Charlie Angus is on top this, (though it was the NDP who blocked the release of the report before the election). He knows how these guys operate.
He helped to expose a similar scandal involving a land deal with Adams Mine/Cortellucci Group. Tony Clement was involved with that one as well, netting $40,000 from Cortellucci for his provincial leadership bid. Jim Flaherty was paid $47,000.
Tim Hudak sat in the Ontario Legislature at the time, so is well aware of what "cronyism" really looks like. He is promising to once again get tough on "welfare fraud", from the bottom, not the top, where it is actually perpetrated.
There is no honour in being poor, and most would prefer not to wear the label. However, the real shame is in being someone in a position to help, but instead choose to simply add to the misery.
No, this scandal will not destroy the people of Parry Sound - Muskoka, but they have been victimized just the same, with the added burden of being labelled "greedy".
They didn't ask for the extravagance, but are paying for it in the worst possible way.
1. ACCENTURE: A snapshot of cost overruns job loss and dissatisfaction, CUPE, June 24, 2003
2. Anderson Consulting and Accenture, Polaris Institute, June 2003
3. Tories ignored computer warnings, By Trish Hennessey and Peter H. Sawchuk, University of Toronto Press, July 13, 2004