Saturday, March 03, 2007

Scandals & Fiascos from Sea to Sea

As the Canadian union was just six years old, news of the first Canadian scandal was about to explode. In the summer of 1873 news broke that Sir John A. Macdonald and his Conservatives received a whopping $350,000 in campaign funds in exchange for a lucrative railway contract, Canadians were outraged.

Canada is a great country in so many ways, yet we are still evolving in areas of social equality, and democracy. However, the evolution of principle, ethics and honesty in politics has been slow, and has not caught on with every elected official. Newfoundland and Labrador has had scandals and fiascos before, but it is like other provinces of Canada who in recent years, and currently, have had politicians surrender to the chance to pocket more coin. Some things don't change much. Here are just some other Canadian examples of wastage and dishonesty in government:

Saskatchewan Tories in Fraud Scandal

Twelve members of Grant Devine's government in Saskatchewan, which was swept from office in 1991, were charged in relation to a scheme that defrauded taxpayers of more than $837,000.

There are some similiarities between this scandal and the still ongoing IEC scandal investigation in NL. The seeds of the controversy were planted in 1987, when Devine's caucus agreed to pool 25 per cent of the communications allowances that MLAs were entitled to receive from the legislature into a central account. The CROWN has alleged that some members of the Devine government signed expense allowance claims that were submitted to the legislature along with invoices from four shell companies set up by John Scraba, then the caucus communications director. Many of the invoices were for services never rendered, or for expenses that were illegitimate. After the invoices were approved by the legislature's finance offices, cheques were issued to the phoney companies. That money was then funnelled back to several caucus members and Scraba in the form of cash and merchandise.

Police were first alerted to the scam in July, 1991, when legislature clerk Gwenn Ronyk reported some suspicious invoices. The investigation received a break in April, 1992, when a Regina bank branch opened a safety deposit box after its registered owner failed to respond to a notification that the bank was moving. Inside the box were 150 $1,000 bills. The owner's name proved to be bogus, but his address was quite revealing: Room 203, Saskatchewan legislature, aka the Tory caucus office. After contacting other banks, police uncovered a second safety deposit box, under the same phoney name, that contained 90 $1,000 bills.

Perhaps the most explosive testimony came on Oct. 24, when another former caucus chairman, Myles Morin, told the court that Devine had approved a plan in 1985 to transfer $455,000 - an amount unrelated to the $837,000 fraud scheme - in surplus caucus funds into an investment account.

Eventually, more than a dozen former Conservative MLAs and party workers were convicted of robbing taxpayers in a bogus-expense scheme. Sadly in a much darker vein, former cabinet minister Jack Wolfe committed suicide in February, 1995, leaving behind a pregnant wife and three young children.

British Columbia's FastCat Fiasco

Also called the Fast Ferry Scandal was the name given to a political scandal in British Columbia during Glen Clark's tenure as Premier (1996-99). Hoping to revive BC's shipbuilding industry to some semblance of its past glory of the 20th century, Glen Clark's NDP government, refusing the advice of the BC Ferries corporation to lease a similiar type of ferry for trials, went ahead and constructed three vessels.

The project was originally set to cost $210 million, but due to various blunders by the government, BC Ferries, design bureaus, and the shipyards, it rose to almost $460 million and final delivery was almost 3 years behind schedule. A large part of the delay was due to the fact that the shipyards commissioned to construct the vessels had very little experience working with aluminum.

There were also significant problems like high fuel consumption, little outside deck space for passengers, and loading the ferries took longer.

In 2003 the ferries went up for sale. They were auctioned of to the Washington Marine Group for $19.4 million. If that wasn't enough salt in the wound, there this was: the same company offered to purchase the fleet for $60 million prior to the auction.

Alberta 2005: Worst land deal deal ever

Inside sweet land deals got some civil servants in trouble and cost the government of Alberta. Ethics commissioner Donald Hamilton cleared Environment Minister Guy Boutilier of influencing an Alberta Social Housing Corporation decision to sell 231 acres of Fort McMurray land for affordable housing to the Timberlea Joint Venture Consortium. The consortium got the land at a price set for 158 acres. Not only was the deal sweet, but beneficiaries include Boutilier’s personal friend Tim Walsh, and other individuals who NDP critic Ray Martin says have contributed $14,000 to Boutilier’s campaigns since he became an MLA. To top things off, the $35,000 per acre price was based on 1990 land values. The government lost at least $2.5 million in potential revenue on the sale.

Ontario's Hydro One Scandal
Here's an excerpt from the above link

Reports say Ontario's publicly owned utility paid out $5.6 million to former advisors to Premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.

The players involved in the Hydro One affair were key insiders during the 8-year Tory reign at Queen's Park: Tom Long (former Harris advisor), Paul Rhodes (Tory campaign communications director), Leslie Noble (co-chair of the Tory election campaign), and Michael Gourley (a reported advisor and confidant of Eves).

What's particularly unseemly about the Hydro One affair is that, many of the individuals involved are the very ones who concocted the "Common Sense Revolution" which hypocritically preached fiscal restraint, cuts to social assistance, and scaling back public services. This resulted in a Tory government that inflicted brutal cuts to the poor, ransacked health care, and created a "crisis" in education.

Ontario December, 2006
Millions wasted on gov't credit cards: Ont. AG
Excerpt from CTV News

A number of Ontario's public sector workers can't account for millions in charges on taxpayer-funded credit cards, the province's auditor general finds.

"I'd have to say that we noticed examples across all broader public sector areas that we looked at," Jim McCarter said in his annual report released Tuesday.

"The number of questionable examples that we noted across the system were certainly of concern this year ... we have a lot of examples in here of what we would call really questionable expenditures."

The report highlights include:

A litany of spending abuses at the Children's Aid societies, including all-inclusive trips to Caribbean resorts and questionable overtime. (One employee was paid $21,000 to catch up on paperwork);
$127 million charged to Hydro One credit cards without receipts. (One secretary charged $50,000 in goods that went to her boss, who signed the expenses);
$6.5 million charged on Ontario Power Generation credit cards without any receipts;
300,000 more OHIP cards than Ontarians;
Teachers and staff at four school boards charged thousands for questionable lunches, trips and gifts; and
Workplace Safety Insurance Board patients receiving quicker access to high-tech diagnostic exams than non-WSIB workers.
Spending abuses at several Children's Aid societies, which prompted an outcry last week after a draft report was leaked to the media, included purchases of SUVs worth $59,000 and expensive trips to all-inclusive Caribbean resorts.

One staff member, who was given a society-provided vehicle, also received a $600 a month tax-free car allowance.

I have not heard much about this since. If anyone has more information please share it here

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