OTTAWA – The Harper government says spending almost $2 million to renovate a luxury Muskoka resort was an expected cost of hosting world leaders at last year’s G8 summit.
But opposition parties say the tab – which includes thousands spent to shift furniture and light fixtures – is further evidence the summit was used to feather cabinet minister Tony Clement’s political nest.
Details of the renovation tab for the Deerhurst Resort in Clement’s Ontario riding were obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act.
They include $500 to remove a small chandelier in a hospitality suite, $3,000 to raise a large chandelier in the lobby, $1,650 to remove a king-sized bed from one of the rooms assigned to the French delegation and $1,540 to move furniture in rooms assigned to the German delegation.
The tab also includes $1.1 million to turn 12 one-bedroom suites into six luxury rooms with adjacent suites. No breakdown of that price tag was provided.
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said Monday the exorbitant cost for seemingly simple things puts the lie to the government’s insistence that every penny devoted to the summit was well spent.
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“How can you justify $1,500 to move a bed? How can you spend $3,000 to change a light?” Angus said to reporters after question period.
“Every time we turn around, we find another example of outrageous, dubious pork-barrel spending.”
In the Commons, Conservative MP Bob Dechert responded for the government and insisted the expenditures were just part of the normal cost of hosting an international summit.
“When hosting the leaders of the G8 countries and thousands of other guests, it is expected that some adjustments would be made to accommodations,” said Dechert, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
Dechert said every invoice for renovations at Deerhurst was reviewed by “professional public servants” before any money was paid.
However, Angus drew a link between the renovations and the controversial $50 million G8 legacy fund which was used to pay for gazebos, parks, public washrooms and other beautification projects in Clement’s Parry Sound-Muskoka riding, many of them hours away from the summit site in Huntsville, Ont.
Municipal documents obtained by the NDP through provincial freedom-of-information legislation have shown that Clement, now Treasury Board president, the mayor of Huntsville and Deerhurst’s general manager, Joseph Klein, were intimately involved in setting up local meetings to discuss the legacy fund.
The renovations at Deerhurst did not come out of the legacy fund. Nevertheless, Angus maintained they’re part of an overall pattern of dubious summit expenditures that seem to have benefited people close to Clement.
He noted that nine months after the summit, Deerhurst was sold for $26 million to Skyline Hotels and Resorts.
“The Deerhurst got a $2-million reno job and then it was turned around and sold. It seems that anybody who was close to Tony Clement, things went very well,” Angus said.
“I’m not a real estate agent,” he added. “But if I had $2 million spent on my place, it would be a hell of a lot easier to turn around and sell it.”