Agriculture Minister ted McMeekin was on the hot seat in Question Period today  after Tory MPP Ernie Hardeman, quizzed him about a $7.49 million grant awarded to the Municipality of Bluewater even though, he charged,  they didn’t apply.

 “Taxpayers deserve to know why the McGuinty government gave out money with no application, no public announcement and forced the municipality to sign a confidentiality agreement,” said Hardeman.”

Since 2003, the ministry has invested more than $167 million for 418 Rural Economic Development projects, and generated more than $1.2 billion in new economic activity supporting the creation/retention of more than 35,000 jobs in municipalities across the province.

Following is an excerpt from the exchange in Question Period at the Legislature”

Ms. Lisa M. Thompson: … My question is for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. I want to read a quote from a local newspaper, attributed to the mayor of the municipality of Bluewater upon receiving $7.5 million: “‘I still wake up at night, wondering if this is going to happen,’ he said.” The March 22 article goes on to say that, “Unlike most funding, the municipality didn’t apply through a grant application but was approached by the province.”

Minister, is this standard practice?

Hon. Ted McMeekin: We’re very proud of our rural economic development program and the funds that we’ve been able to provide to municipalities. My understanding is that this project will support economic development in the Bluewater area, and that’s good. If the member opposite is anxious to not see that money extended to that municipality, perhaps she could get the council to say that they don’t want it, but I doubt very much that’s going to happen.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary? The member from Leeds–Grenville.

Mr. Steve Clark: Thank you. Minister, four years ago, right before an election, the Minister of Citizenship was caught shovelling money out the door, like the million-dollar cricket club grant, without bothering with things like applications or accountability.

The reckless use of taxpayers’ money doesn’t stop there. The previous Minister of Agriculture signed the formal agreement with the municipality of Bluewater and you amended it less than two months later to rush the cash out the door, and took reporting and accountability measures out of the agreement. Minister, something isn’t right. The ministry never announced this money and reportedly had the municipality sign a confidentiality agreement. Will you ask the auditor to look into this, or, if you have details of the grant, share them with the people in the Legislature?

Hon. Ted McMeekin: I’m a little confused. This is the party opposite that wanted to stop the uploading to the province. This is the party opposite that, in the election campaign, wouldn’t stand in their place and make a commitment to municipalities like Bluewater. Our government is proud of the strategic investments that we’ve made in the municipality of Bluewater in support of the economic development in that region.

John Best has had a lengthy media management career, in television and radio and now print. As Vice President, News at CHCH in Hamilton, John oversaw a significant expansion of the news operation. He founded Independent Satellite News, Canada’s only television news service providing national content to Canadian independent TV stations. John is a frequent political commentator on radio and television, a documentary producer and author of a book and numerous articles on historical and political subjects. John is a past recipient of the New York Festival’s award for writing in the International TV category.

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