“Let’s go for a walk,” a friend suggested. “Let’s go to the Summit.”
The Summit sounded like a great destination on a sunny summer morning.
Huntsville is a pretty town in Ontario’s cottage country. It’s set between the shores of two large lakes and along the banks of the Muskoka River. Rocky hills rise up all around and within the community. A hike up one of those summits to enjoy a view over town and countryside could only be fun.
We did start by walking through a patch of woods, but soon we were dodging cars in a hospital parking lot and then at a busy intersection. We made our way along Huntsville’s noisy main street to enter the bustling downtown core. The first left after an old bridge took us over a couple of small hills in a residential area and down to a bright new building beside a weathered high school.
“The Summit!” my friend said, to my disappointment. I saw no crest of a hill, only a valley filled with parking lots. Obviously, our destination was no scenic hilltop. It was the large building before us.
The Canada Summit Centre is a multimillion-dollar sports complex built with federal tax money that was provided just before a bunch of foreign leaders came to Canada for a meeting last year — the 2010 G8 Summit, as it was called.
My friend (we’ll call him Hank because that’s not his name) gave me a tour that reflected both admiration and disdain. The big meeting, which took place before the centre was completed, paid for many nice things, such as extensive improvements to an existing swimming pool and hockey arena and the additions of a 14-person hottub, an Olympic-sized ice rink, a rubberized walking track, two fitness centres, a coffee shop and a brand new, granite-faced, timber-supported building to house it all.
However, as much as Hank clearly admired the building and all it offered (except for the coffee shop, since he prefers the Tim Hortons downtown), he kept telling me how much he hated it. Huntsville, he explained, did not need two hockey rinks. In fact, he said the whole Summit Centre was an unnecessary waste of money. Much less could have been spent to make modest, but adequate, improvements to the existing arena and pool.
Hank said the centre had nothing to do with making Huntsville look nice for foreign dignitaries. He said the only reason Ottawa spent so much sprucing up Huntsville and other nearby towns was to buy local votes for incumbent Conservative MP Tony Clement.
So, I asked (although it was none of my business), who did you vote for?
Tony Clement, he said.
It has never been a secret that the organizers of the G8 Summit (and the subsequent G20) spent a colossal amount of public money solely to strengthen the Conservative party vote. Nor does it come as a surprise that the details of the transactions were deviously hidden from federal access-to-information laws.
The opposition New Democrats have been digging up municipal records proving that Clement, the MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka and a prominent cabinet minister, had personal control over $50-million that was supposed to have been spent on strengthening Canada’s borders. Instead, he handed it out to people throughout his riding who used it to plant trees and construct gazebos and other unnecessary buildings.
Predictably, Canada’s Conservative government denies any wrongdoing and dismisses the issue as a minor matter of an administrative shortcoming.
Indeed, by the time the party finishes transforming Canada’s political culture, they’ll probably be right. Vote-buying of the kind practiced by certain candidates (with money, projects or alcohol) could easily become normal and possibly even legal under this 39 per cent majority regime.
That means Conservative claims of innocence will be retroactively true. However, that doesn’t leave Stephen Harper off the hook. By his standards, the government is at fault, but not because Clement had a slush fund. Instead, Harper should now provide one to every Conservative constituency.
So, here’s the question for our 39 per cent prime minister: Where is Labrador MP Peter Penashue’s $50 million? It’s only fair he gets some, too.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.