Mismanagement allegations of a 'green energy' slush fund does not constitute grounds for termination, according to Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne.
On November 6, Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett asked the minister why senior bureaucrats at the Sustainable Development Technologies Canada (SDTC) did not receive the boot after a report late September noted "inconsistencies and opportunities for improvement" in its governance.
"I work on the basis of evidence, I'm a lawyer, and I would certainly caution members of this committee to apply due process when they're looking at allegations," Champagne testified before the Commons ethics committee.
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, several "green-washing" investigations are underway into SDTC by Innovation Canada for distributing $38.4 million in subsidies to corporations. Parliament established the federal agency in 2001 to award $100,000 grants to industry.
In March, Innovation Canada hired professional services firm Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton to review the allegations against the not-for-profit foundation. Their September 26 Fact Finding Exercise Report said agency directors “did not recuse themselves” in distributing millions in corporate subsidies.
Innovation Canada provided the ethics committee with a redacted version of the report, which failed to identify the parties involved.
"People need to be held accountable,” said Conservative MP Larry Brock, who urged for a reckoning of sorts. "People need to be fired," he told Champagne. "You have done absolutely nothing despite claiming you are taking this so seriously."
According to the report, Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton tabled concerns about conflict of interest and compliance with the contribution agreement between the foundation and those corporations seeking 'green energy' handouts.
"Conflict of interest policy appears to not have been consistently followed for Seed Funding," and it was "inconsistently applied" to ineligible recipients, it reads.
"You just said in your opening statement that you'd taken all reasonable steps. I haven't heard yet that you fired anyone," said Barrett during a committee hearing Monday.
"The buck stops with me," admitted Champagne, pledging to fire any appointee responsible for suspected 'sweetheart contracting' at a green technology agency.
"I want to get to the heart of the issue," the minister told MPs. "I want to get to the bottom of this more than anyone else," he claimed.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper said that contrary to the minister’s stance about there not being enough evidence, the report has "damning" findings, reported Blacklock's Reporter. "When you say that you need evidence, you have that evidence," he said.
Brock took issue with the apparent misuse of taxpayer money. "Provide me the evidence of that, sir," replied Champagne.
"You want evidence?" asked Brock. "Take a look."
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, SDTC disbursed $196 million during fiscal year 2022/23 to fund projects. Its portfolio is worth $5.97 billion, with $1.71 billion coming from SDTC funding to projects.
The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) told reporters November 1 it would also review how SDTC is financing sustainable development technologies. Champagne told the committee he welcomes the audit and that his department will fully cooperate.
On October 4, Champagne paused further SDTC funding, and provided the foundation with an action plan to correct the issues highlighted in the report.
"We note the report found no clear evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct at SDTC and indicated that no further investigation is merited," said the foundation in a written statement. They contend the plan’s recommendations could be implemented by year-end.
Champagne also testified he had yet to read some 300 pages of detailed allegations from whistleblowers, and declined to speak to any complainants, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.
"Have you met with the whistleblowers?" asked Cooper. "I don’t think it would be appropriate," replied the minister.
"There’s not just one whistleblower, up to 20 whistleblowers consisting of employees, consisting of senior executives," added Brock.
"I know Sustainable Development Technology Canada likes to classify them just as troublemakers but they’re not," he said. "They received advice to prepare a 300-page information package and send that off to the Privy Council Office."