Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre wants the federal Liberals to suffer the consequences of a sustainable technology fund that was found to be mismanaged.

On Monday, Conservatives took a step toward a potential RCMP investigation by putting forward a non-binding motion calling on the government, the arm’s-length government funding body Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) and the Auditor General of Canada to cough up documents, correspondence, financial records, conflict of interest declarations and more. The documents would be sent to the RCMP, which would not be required to investigate anything.

All federal parties except for the Liberals passed the non-binding motion. In a statement, the Conservative Party of Canada said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has turned the SDTC into “a slush fund for organizations connected to Liberal insiders.”

“The Liberals were the only party to vote against this motion in an attempt to further cover up the egregious corruption at the SDTC,” the statement adds. “Quite simply, an RCMP investigation is the only way to fully expose all wrongdoing and potential criminality at the SDTC Green Slush Fund.”

The motion comes a week after a jaw-dropping investigation from Auditor General Karen Hogan was tabled in the House of Commons, revealing tens of millions of dollars were allegedly mishandled by SDTC.

But Hogan is pushing back on the motion calling on her to provide more documents, fearing it could hurt her office’s independence.

On Monday, Hogan sent a letter, seen by Canada’s National Observer, to the House of Commons standing committee on public accounts, outlining concerns she had about the Conservative motion

“In my view, the requirement to produce my entire audit file to the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel compromises my independence, and is also likely to discourage departments, agencies, and Crown corporations from providing me free and timely access to the information required for my audits going forward,” she wrote.

The foundation was set up in 2001 to provide financing to businesses in the clean-tech industry, and in 2021 entered into a five-year agreement with the federal department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to manage a $1 billion fund.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre wants the federal Liberals to suffer the consequences of a sustainable technology fund that was found to be mismanaged. #cdnpoli

Hogan’s audit covered the foundation’s decisions from March 2017 to December 2023, a time period during which SDTC approved $856 million worth of funding for 420 projects. The audit closely reviewed 58 of those projects and found that 10 of them were ineligible for funding, but still received $59 million of government money. The audit estimates 10 per cent of the projects approved from 2017 to 2023 were ineligible.

On top of that, according to Hogan’s study, in 90 cases representing $76 million worth of funding, SDTC did not follow its conflict-of-interest policies.

Last year during a House of Commons ethics committee meeting, it was revealed that SDTC board chair Annette Verschuren, who is also the CEO of Toronto-based energy storage company NRStor Inc, was involved in approving grants to NRStor worth over $200,000. Verschuren stepped down from the foundation in November.

In the fallout of Hogan’s audit, the SDTC was axed and its funds moved to the National Research Council of Canada.

The SDTC is an arm’s-length organization, but “it’s clear that its model is not suitable for today’s expectation of stewardship,” said Audrey Milette, press secretary for innovation and science minister François-Philippe Champagne.

“As soon as allegations were brought forward, we acted swiftly to address the situation,” she said. “We immediately froze new funding to SDTC and initiated two separate independent reviews to thoroughly examine the claims, and invited the Auditor General to conduct an audit.

“Last week, we accepted the [Auditor General’s] recent report on STDC and acted on its recommendations, prompting a completely new delivery approach to government support for the cleantech sector.”

NDP industry critic Brian Masse, who voted with Conservatives on the motion, told Canada’s National Observer in an interview Tuesday it's “outlandish” for the funds to now simply be administered by the National Research Council.

“There's no doubt that we still have a lot of unanswered questions with what's going on, and it's giving the good work that's being done a black eye because of the lack of seriousness by the Liberals to address this,” he said. “So for ourselves as New Democrats, we support these projects but they need to be done with the highest degree of public accountability to build public confidence.”

Best defence is offence

For University of Victoria associate professor James Rowe, the Conservative attempts to hold Trudeau’s feet to the fire on this issue parallel their relentless attacks on the carbon tax.

He says though voters rank climate change as an important issue, the Conservatives don’t have a credible climate plan, and so it makes sense to go on the offensive to delegitimize the Liberal management of various climate policies.

“Without a legitimate climate plan, going on the attack for what the Liberals are putting forward makes complete sense,” Rowe told Canada’s National Observer. He added that with their mismanagement of this file, however, “the Liberals have rolled out the red carpet for them.”

If the Conservatives are “able to pin the carbon tax as a money grab that's increasing affordability issues for Canadians writ large, and now you can point to this as a government boondoggle, where again they're taking your hard earned tax dollars and they're just distributing it to their friends… that's really compelling politics,” Rowe said.

Rowe explained that a way right-wing movements are building popularity, especially in the post-pandemic era, is by framing any government policy that is attempting to change peoples’ behaviour as an “authoritarian creep perpetrated by the global elite.”

Poilievre’s attacks on the carbon price fit that narrative well. One of the reasons they resonated with Canadians is because Conservatives were able to tap into a feeling that the governing Liberals are out of touch and think they know best, Rowe said.

The emerging scandal over millions of dollars being improperly authorized for ineligible companies would also fit this right-wing framing that climate action isn’t really about saving the environment, but rather is a way “to line their own pockets.”

Masse called the audit’s findings of the STDC an “absolute” scandal and noted the missed opportunity. Every dollar flowing to ineligible companies is one denied for clean-tech companies that the country desperately needs to scale up in order to slash greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

By setting up a funding system that was designed to be independent of the minister in charge, Masse accused the Liberals of being “lazy” and adopting a “hear no evil, see no evil” approach.

“Conservatives now are dragging the climate change initiatives that we have, that could be good, all [through] the mud... because of Liberal mismanagement, because [Liberals] didn't want to do the hard work that was necessary,” Masse said.

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