Ethics Investigation Into Green Fund Board Members Will Be Finished by August

Ethics Investigation Into Green Fund Board Members Will Be Finished by August
The West Block of Parliament Hill is pictured at sunset in Ottawa on Dec. 19, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Doug Lett
A federal ethics investigation into possible conflicts of interest on a federal green fund should be completed by the middle of summer, according to a story in Blacklock’s Reporter.

Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) is an arm’s length federal foundation that was set up to invest in green technologies. Records show former Industry Minister Navdeep Bains ignored warnings about appointing a Liberal Party donor to the board.

On April 17, Ethics Commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein told the Commons ethics committee that an investigation into two people on the board of SDTC should be finished soon.

“I can tell you now that by certainly before the first of August, you'll see the report,” Mr. von Finckenstein told the committee. He did not name the directors who are the subjects of the investigation.

Conservative MP Larry Brock asked if there was any more information on the investigation. “At this point in time, have you uncovered any element of criminality associated with the complaints?”

Mr. von Finckenstein said he hadn’t.

Last year, the chair of SDTC’s board, Annette Verschuren, resigned after complaints that she had approved money for her own company, NRStor. In December, she told the Commons Industry committee she did nothing wrong because it’s the “normal course of business” for the government to support the clean tech sector.

Ms. Verschuren voted to give her company a $217,000 grant. She told the industry committee she had moved a motion to provide COVID-19 relief payments to companies supported by SDTC, including her own. She defended the move, saying she had consulted with a legal professional who told her it was not a conflict of interest because the conflicts had been previously declared. She resigned on Dec. 1.

The industry committee also heard testimony that former Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains was warned about the potential conflict of interest in appointing Ms. Verschuren but dismissed the concern.

Problems with the fund started coming to light in early 2023, after a whistleblower complaint. Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), which oversees SDTC, commissioned a fact-finding exercise with third-party firm Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton (RCGT).

RCGT found a number of issues, including a conflict of interest policy that was “inconsistently applied,” a funding stream that appeared to be non-complaint, and board decisions that were all made unanimously.

It noted that COVID-19 payments were not being tracked and appeared non-compliant and that SDTC human resources were not tracking internal complaints. It also raised questions about the allocation of millions of dollars.

Ms. Verschuren is not the only person to step down from SDTC. Last November, Leah Lawrence, president and CEO of the fund, resigned.

On Jan. 31, Ms. Lawrence told the Commons industry committee that her warnings about conflict of interest involving Ms. Verschuren were ignored.

She said it became apparent in 2019 that the government wanted to replace then-chair Jim Balsilie, a well-known tech entrepreneur.

“I expressed concern SDTC was funding a project for her company,” Ms. Lawrence told the committee. She warned of a potential conflict of interest and a perception of it and said Ms. Verschuren and SDTC “could potentially be damaged by the appointment.”

She said her concerns were ignored.

Guy Ouimet, another Liberal appointee, testified on Dec. 6 that he voted to award $393,805 in grants to a Quebec company in which he had a direct interest.

“We had a situation where there was $20 million for emergency COVID support and a program was set up,” testified Ouimet. “We all declared conflicts of interest,“ clarifying that ”not all directors are in conflicts of interest all the time. I don’t want to give that impression.”

With files from Noé Chartier