Firms with ties to 'green slush fund' received tens of millions of taxpayer dollars: report

Leah Lawrence, president and CEO of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) attributed her departure to 'a sustained and malicious campaign.' According to True North, the SDTC fired employees who brought up allegations of corporate mismanagement.

Firms with ties to 'green slush fund' received tens of millions of taxpayer dollars: report
Facebook/ Sustainable Development Technology Canada and THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
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Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) has allocated tens of millions of dollars to firms in which its board members are financially vested, according to True North.

Under its current agreement with the ISED, the green fund has $1 billion to distribute to clean tech enterprises between 2021 and 2026 — increasing in successive amounts before maxing at $320 million by 2025/26.

As first reported by CBC, assistant deputy minister to Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED), Doug McConnachie, said the feds have lost "confidence" in the fund’s senior management. A whistleblower with the foundation sent the federal government a complaint earlier this year concerning their alleged mismanagement of funds.

Leah Lawrence, president and CEO of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) attributed her departure to "[…] a sustained and malicious campaign to undermine my leadership." 

According to True North, the SDTC fired employees who expressed their concerns about alleged corporate mismanagement within the organization.

"This compromises my future ability to lead the organization and puts me in an untenable situation. And I want to see this organization succeed," she claimed.

An SDTC whistleblower spoke with the publication, who uncovered the foundation had given money to companies with ties to current and former board members. 

Among those of concern is ex-board member Andrée-Lise Méthot, who served with the organization from July 2015 to September 2021.

Méthot, a managing partner for the venture capital firm Cycle Capital, served on the SDTC’s Project Review Committee during her tenure, where the crown corporation funded seven firms with ties to Cycle Capital. From May 2, 2017, to September 15, 2021, the board approved $23,065,853 to those firms.

In addition, Méthot also served as corporate director for Enerkem, a biofuel company in which the SDTC board paid $12 million on February 2, 2016.

Guy Ouimet, an ongoing member since 2018, also served on the Project Review Committee, while simultaneously serving on the board of Lithion Technologies. During his tenure, the board approved $3,842,000 in funding for Lithion on August 29, 2018 — less than two months after the company’s incorporation. 

And finally, Ellen McGregor, an SDTC board member since 2015, also serves as the principal owner of Fielding Environmental. She too sat on the Project Review Committee.

In particular, Fielding collaborates with clean tech companies, including Li-Cycle, which received a $2,708,488 grant on August 29, 2018, and another $4,000,000 on August 17, 2020.

In response to the whistleblower complaint, the feds hired Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton in March to identify conflicts of interest and problematic spending within the foundation. Their report showed Lawrence failed to declare a conflict of interest with an SDTC consultant that she backdated under the advice of legal counsel.

Auditor General Karen Hogan also announced an investigation into its spending two weeks ago.

In addition, SDTC chair Annette Verschuren testified before MPs November 8 on approving $217,000 in COVID relief funding to her own firm in 2020 — one of roughly 140 firms that received equivalent pandemic funding.

Verschuren did not recuse herself from the vote and claimed to have acted on the legal opinion of her lawyer. "I took the advice from my lawyer," she told MPs on the committee. "I received legal advice and I think that was the proper approach."

Records from the funding meetings are not public, according to True North, so it remains unclear which committee members, if any, recused themselves.

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