Former Liberal minister fails to recall appointment of party donor to billion-dollar ‘green slush fund’

Former Liberal Minister Navdeep Bains ignored warnings not to appoint Liberal donor Annette Verschuren as chair to Sustainable Development Technology Canada. It was considered 'improper' and may have breached an Act of Parliament, the industry committee learned.

Former Liberal minister fails to recall appointment of party donor to billion-dollar ‘green slush fund’
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Remove Ads

Former industry minister Navdeep Bains pleaded ignorance to receiving warnings over the appointment of a Liberal Party donor as chair of a federal agency. 

Auditors in a report Tuesday cited directors of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) in 186 conflicts that benefited friends and associates. 

SDTC funding ceased last September 26. There were “significant lapses” at the agency, Auditor General Karen Hogan testified Tuesday.

Over the past six years, the board approved 226 projects worth $836 million. “I am very concerned,” Hogan said.

Bains’ office earlier received warnings not to appoint Liberal donor Annette Verschuren as chair to SDTC, reported Blacklock’s Reporter. It was considered ‘improper’ and may have breached an Act of Parliament, the industry committee learned last January 31.

“I left cabinet on January 12, 2021, so I am not sure which appointments were before or after that,” Bains testified at the Commons industry committee. “Boy it’s great to have amnesia, isn’t it?” replied Conservative MP Rick Perkins.

Then-minister Bains was responsible for over 100 appointments. He is currently an executive with Rogers Communications Inc. in Toronto.

Verschuren, a Liberal donor who contributed $10,750 to the party, was appointed board chair and subsidized her private business with a $217,000 pandemic grant through the agency. She abruptly resigned last November 21.

The former chair justified the funding, claiming concern for job losses from the investments made by the board preceding her appointment. 

“At the time of the board decision on those Covid payments, you recall it was March 2020, it was very difficult,” Verschuren testified at the Commons ethics committee last December 12. “We were going to lose the investments that we made and the jobs.”

She later fled the committee hearing when asked about the alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars.

SDTC CEO Leah Lawrence told MPs she “expressed concern” with Verschuren’s appointment in 2019. 

“Sustainable Development Technology was funding a project for her company,” said Lawrence. “I expressed a concern there was a potential for both conflict of interest and the perception of conflict.”

Verschuren clarified her company has not received SDTC funding for any project since her appointment as chair of the foundation.

Many months prior, the former chair’s company received a $12,430 grant from Global Affairs Canada and $1.4 million in contracts from Natural Resources Canada (NRC) through the agency.

“It was 18 months before my appointment,” clarified Verschuren.

The SDTC chair did not consider it a conflict of interest. “A conflict of interest is a situation where there is an interest, an influence in terms of a direct conflict,” she said. 

In 90 conflict cases, directors voted for $76 million in subsidies to that effect. Another 96 instances did not involve direct participation in votes, but conflicts remained.

Conservative MP Larry Brock previously told Verschuren she needs a “refresher on what a conflict of interest really means.”

Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne transferred all SDTC funds to the NRC on Monday, after Auditor General Karen Hogan tabled her scathing report outlining a plethora of irregularities.

“This structure will help rebuild public trust while increasing accountability, transparency and integrity,” Champagne said. However, government records indicate the Verschuren Centre received $70,000 from the NRC last April 1.

A separate conflict-of-interest report revealed shortcomings with SDTC management, but Minister Champagne kept its senior management in place.

Israr Ahmad, a federal whistleblower, alleged conflict breaches and human resource deficiencies from the board as early as last March.

SDTC employees are still permitted employment with the research council despite the fund’s closure.

Remove Ads
Remove Ads

Don't Get Censored

Big Tech is censoring us. Sign up so we can always stay in touch.

Remove Ads