Criticism of Liberal 'green slush fund' is hurtful, says former exec

Conservative MPs condemned Sustainable Development Technology Canada for ‘defrauding’ taxpayers $319 million, representing almost half of all transactions. Sheryl Urie, vice president of finance at SDTC, described the criticism as hurtful in remarks to a House of Commons committee.

Criticism of Liberal 'green slush fund' is hurtful, says former exec
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Although Parliament’s “green slush fund” is no more, a former executive with the federal agency described recent public criticism as hurtful. 

Sheryl Urie, vice president of finance, said Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) provided a net benefit to Canadians. 

“All Canadians are benefiting from this,” Urie testified Thursday at the Commons public accounts committee. 

Cabinet on June 4 transferred all its work to the National Research Council (NRC) after auditors disclosed 186 conflicts among board members. It benefitted friends and family, reads a report by the Auditor General.

The Foundation, which lost federal funding last September, is "entirely funded through public money,” reads the June 4 report Sustainable Development Technology Canada. “With that comes an expectation that it holds the highest standard for ethical practices.”

The SDTC approved 226 projects worth $836 million since 2017. 

Urie tried placating taxpayers of the conflicted cash awards totalling $319 million. “It has been seen as a great success,” she said.

The fund distributed taxpayer subsidies to clean tech enterprises, whose projects frequently overstated environmental benefits.

Testimony by Deputy Industry Minister Simon Kennedy countered Urie's remarks. “There are going to be cases where potentially funding was provided and it needs to be recovered,” he said.

12 of 18 projects sampled in the scathing audit found only half of emission reduction targets were achieved. The Trudeau government axed the green fund soon after.

Liberal MP Iqra Khalid attempted to blame “Conservative messaging” and how it impacted the fund’s credibility. 

“It is difficult … to hear that type of messaging delivered when we see some of the companies that have come through our portfolio … that contributed to environmental benefits across the country,” replied Urie.

Conservative MP Rick Perkins earlier condemned the agency for “defrauding” taxpayer dollars, citing that almost half of all transactions from 2017 to 2023 were conflicted.  

Fellow Conservative MP Eric Duncan also expressed disbelief. “The program is rightfully getting a lot of criticism,” he said. “I find that frankly a little tone deaf.”

Both members of Parliament hammered the SDTC hard for the “corruption” and conflicts of interest by Liberal insiders.

Chief among them is venture capitalist Andrée-Lise Méthot, a former board member of SDTC and managing partner for the firm Cycle Capital, who funded several firms with ties to her enterprise. 

From May 2, 2017, to September 15, 2021, the board reportedly approved $23,065,853 to MineSense Technologies, Spark Microsystems, GreenMantra Technologies, Concentric Agriculture, Polystyvert and VueReal.

Conflicted board members included the chair, Annette Verschuren, who gave her company a $217,661 subsidy. “I am sure that I didn’t break any ethics laws,” Verschuren testified last December 14 at the Commons industry committee.

“There is a requirement in the Sustainable Development Technology Act that says no one should personally benefit from government money,” says Auditor Hogan. “I think that’s a fundamental rule.”

“It appears even the Department of Industry … had an assistant deputy minister in the meetings every time and didn't clearly understand,” MP Perkins previously said.

Restructuring the SDTC to the NRC gives the Trudeau Liberals hope of remedying the scandal. “This structure will help rebuild public trust while increasing accountability, transparency and integrity,” Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said.

Former SDTC employees are still eligible for employment with the research council despite the fund’s unceremonious closure.

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