Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Harper's Perps with Perks #14

Welcome, senior cabinet minister Diane Finley, to Stephen Harper's Perps with Perks for violating conflict of interest laws when you awarded $1-million in funding to provide wheelchair access to a building on the ground floor that has no stairs and boasts barn-sized doors. 

The application for funding submitted by a personal friend of John Baird's scored 3rd from last out of the 167 applicants reviewed by her department.

Ms Finley appears to have signed off on the project proposed by Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn, Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Centrepointe in Ottawa following interventions from Baird ( who toured Israel with him the following year) as well as Peter Kent, Nigel Wright, and PMO staffers Ray Novak, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, and Rachel Curran, Policy Advisor for Social Affairs.

CBC and the G&M have provided good accounts on this but federal ethics watchdog Mary Dawson's scathing report tells a tale of patronage beyond Finley. 

1) While I appreciate Rabbi Mendelsohn's stated concerns to Dawson that he was in danger of losing support in the Jewish community if he couldn't rock up grants from the Cons (page 14), his building not having "any existing barriers requiring reduction" for wheelchair access should have been the determining factor.

2) "Rabbi Mendelsohn claimed in emails to ministerial staff following the 2011 election that Chabad Lubavitch branches across Canada had mobilized tens of thousands of volunteers and voters."   Again, not really a wheelchair access problem.

3) "Three departmental officials told me that, in early summer of 2011, the Department received a letter from Minister Kent [the project is in Mr. Kent's riding} to Ms. Finley ... Minister Kent addressed the importance of the Federation and the Markham proposal and urged Ms. Finley to consider funding it. Two of these officials vaguely recalled that Minister Kent referred to a relationship between the Jewish community of the Greater Toronto Area and the Conservative Party of Canada."
 Again ...

4) "Mr. Wright wrote that she [Ms Finley] had pulled him aside outside the Cabinet room and asked him whether he considered the Markham proposal “important.” Mr. Wright wrote that he told her he had been asked by the Prime Minister to “sort it out.”

Mr. Wright wrote he did not intend to suggest to Ms. Finley that funding should be approved for the Markham project, only that it was important that the matter be considered carefully and fairly. Mr. Wright believed he had “sorted out” the matter by communicating that request to Ms. Finley."

5) Following Nigel Wright's conversation with Finlay's Chief of Staff Phil Harwood : 
"Rabbi Mendelsohn said that Mr. Harwood provided him with a list of additional information that was needed and asked him to compile the information based on concerns expressed by officials in the Department about the completeness of the Federation’s Markham application. ... Mr. Harwood said he was unable to recall clearly why Rabbi Mendelsohn had submitted additional information on the Markham project. ...Rabbi Mendelsohn submitted additional information... after being told by Mr. Harwood to do so "

6) Following the Markham project's crappy internal review and Harwood's discussion with Nigel Wright :
"Mr. Harwood said that he recommended that Ms. Finley consider sending the Markham project for external review.... no other applicants were permitted to submit additional information for assessment, either by the internal or the external evaluators. Following the external evaluation, the Markham proposal was not subjected to additional evaluations by the internal review committee as were the top 25 projects"

7) Following the crappy external review, Department officials drafted a letter :
"A letter of decision will be sent to the organization to inform them they were unsuccessful in their application.”
However the letter was not sent, Finley was not informed of it, and "Departmental officials told me they were instructed by the Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Mr. Paquette, to provide only the findings of the external evaluation".
Both internal and external reviews noted "the proposal did not directly address the requirements for making buildings and other facilities accessible to persons with disabilities."

8) "Ms. Finley signed the memorandum, dated August 26, 2011, approving the funding of the Markham project by checking the “yes” box."

9) As funding for approved projects were used up, "an additional $1,044,000 to cover the funding for this project was taken from the small-sized projects component of the program."

10) "The Government of Canada announced the funding of the Federation’s Markham project on October 11, 2011." 

11) "The Department ultimately withdrew its funding for this project. Information provided to my Office indicated that the Chabad Lubavitch of Markham was unable to obtain the necessary construction permits required for the work to be completed within the timeline negotiated with the Department, and there were significant increases in costs to deal with building deficiencies."

12) "It was clearly inappropriate that the funding went to the Markham project."

Throughout, there's also pages and pages of this :
"Mr. Baird told me that he didn’t recall speaking to Ms. Finley ... Mr. Baird doesn't recall speaking to Rabbi Mendelsohn about the proposals... Mr. Kent could not recall speaking with Ms. Finley about the Markham project ... Mr. Kent’s office could not locate a signed copy of the letter to Ms. Finley... Ms. Finley told me that she was not aware of a letter from Minister Kent ... Ms. Finley told me she could not recall a discussion with Mr. Wright... Ms. Finley told me that she did not specifically recall discussing the Markham proposal with Mr. Harwood... Ms Finlay did not recall any discussion with former Minister Baird ..."

Thursday update : Kady O'Malley : "At no point in the Finley report does the ethics commissioner "make it clear" the prime minister was not involved in the selection process."

Wecome aboard, Minister Finley.

Perps with Perks - Collect 'em all!


West End Bob said...

As Sonny and Cher would sing:

"And the beat goes on" . . . .

Anonymous said...

How does a ramp in a single-storey building cost $1M?

Alison said...

Anon : Well I was being a bit facetious. The actual Enabling Accessibility grant wording is :
"To be considered eligible for funding, projects must be directly related to removing barriers and increasing accessibility for people with disabilities in Canadian communities".
So in addition to ramps that would also include retrofitting community vehicles, installing accessible bathrooms and grab bars, automatic door openers, etc. The reason given for the project's low score in both the internal and external reviews was that their proposal application didn't deal sufficiently with "removing barriers" of any kind. And the wording certainly doesn't include delivering Con votes or shoring up the applicant's rep in his community.
It's part of the Economic Action Plan.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Patrick Brazeau is happy to have Diane included in the perps pick:

Jennifer McMackon

Danneau said...

This is reminding me more and more of the final days of the PET/Turner reign when a tired and rudderless Liberal Party was turfed by the Mulroney crowd who, per the usual formula, promised openness, transparency and upright rectitude of the first order, and who subsequently dove into the trough with the gusto of a herd long deprived of nourishment. It felt as though few actually voted for Mulroney, but many wished simply to be rid of the Liberals. Later (1993) we had the occasion to witness the same phenomenon in reverse with the summary dismissal of the Campbell (Mulroney) crowd. My sense is that there was somewhat more reticence on the part of the voting public in 2006 when we flushed the Liberals again, and it remains to be seen if the stale date has been reached with the Harper crowd: sad, though, that there isn't a shining example of constructive thinking ready to be welcomed with forward-thinkng legislation all lined up to redress the wrongs of the whole era of Lib/Con austerity, pillaging and corruption.

Alison said...

Hi Jennifer : I think I'll wait to hear something more substantial from Brazeau than a tweet, in more ways than one. ;-)

Danneau : Mouseland or if you prefer, strategic voting for lizards

Anonymous said...

Same shit different day. The Liberals and Cons have been tag teaming Canada for 148 years, time for a hard left turn to take back what will be left after dick-tater Harper is gone.


Beijing York said...

I used to check out the grants and contributions disclosures on various federal department sites including HRSDC and that Enabling Accessibility program really read like a slush fund for rewarding Conservative supporters. It was amazing to read how many evangelical churches required ramps and other retrofits throughout the country.

Alison said...

BY : When I run into stuff like that I fire it off to which ever online mag or tank I think will be in a position to make the best use of it. You may well already do this but in case you don't, just sayin' ...

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