Treasury Board and Department of Finance officials were satisfied with the City of Ottawa's $880-million commuter rail plan, but federal minister John Baird took it upon himself to ask for a financial audit that led to the delay and subsequent death of the project, documents obtained by the Citizen show...While Baird's apparent excuse lies in the then-impending municipal elections, it should be clear that such reasoning doesn't stand up to even the slightest bit of scrutiny given the amount of time that had already gone into the project. And indeed, if Baird really believes that action shouldn't be taken in the lead-up to any level of election, that would likely keep the Cons from doing anything throughout much of this year in light of the anticipated stream of provincial elections.
Among the documents, a confidential briefing note for Premier Dalton McGuinty, chides Mr. Baird for his "unusual" intervention, pointing out that the city presented a "strong justification" for the project.
"Treasury Board and Finance officials did not request a value for money audit, and Transport and Infrastructure Canada officials and the Minister were satisfied enough with the project to sign off on it to go to TB," the briefing note said.
"He (Mr. Baird) is effectively saying that he is a better judge of value-for-money than the experts in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Department of Finance, and the Treasury Board Secretariat."...
(A)ccording to the documents obtained for the Citizen by researcher Ken Rubin, public servants in the Ontario government cabinet office took a harsher view of Mr. Baird's action. While acknowledging the need for the city to make a business case for the project and provide a cost-benefit analysis, provincial officials say the city passed the test. They noted that the project wouldn't even have landed on the Treasury Board agenda without numerous consultations to convince key departmental officials that "the federal government was receiving value for money."
In particular, cabinet officials took umbrage at the impression left by Mr. Baird that "due diligence" was not done, pointing out that "federal officials have been performing due diligence for two years" on the project.
"This is the only circumstance known of in Ontario where a Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund contract was revisited after being awarded," the documents lamented.
Of course, Baird may well want to continue his history of claiming to know better than the mere experts in his field...and will probably similarly search for every excuse in the book to avoid committing to any real changes now that he's been moved to Environment. But with even industry agitating for environmental action rather than another round of delays, Baird can expect to pay a far higher price if he follows the same strategy again than he has for the commuter rail fiasco.