OTTAWA – The Conservative government is on the defensive over millions in unspent funds for projects to help disabled Canadians.
Candice Bergen, the minister of state for social development, denied playing politics with the fund, which Global News reported was spent primarily in Conservative ridings since 2011.
In question period Monday, Bergen blamed a lack of applications for the reason that $6.6 million went unspent last year, and why some 70 per cent – or $24 million – of $34.5 million in funding since 2011 was spent in Conservative ridings.
“We’re very proud of the Enabling Accessibility Fund. We’ve funded over 1,800 projects across the country. Of course projects need to actually be applied for in order to receive the funding, and the riding and regions that have received funding are in direct proportion to applications that they have submitted,” Bergen told the House of Commons.
“So we look forward to applications coming in from every corner of the country, from every riding and to continue to fund the Enabling Accessibility (Fund) for people with disabilities.”
The Liberals cried foul over what they see as favoritism, and a failure on the Tories’ part to follow through on spending promises.
“This was politically biased in favour of Conservative ridings,” said Liberal MP John McCallum.
According to the documents, 762 programs received funding since 2011, while 1758 were rejected through calls for proposals.
About $24 million of the $34.5 million spent since 2011 went to Conservative ridings, according to documents tabled in Parliament in response to a question from the Liberals.
Opposition ridings got about $10 million in funding, or 30 per cent, despite representing some 47 per cent of the population.
About $2.4 million, or 7 per cent, went to Quebec residents , who make up 23 per cent of the population but where the Tories hold five of 75 seats.
Compared with previous years, the government allowed more than one-third of the $15 million annual fund to go unspent last year.
In 2011-2012, only $1,022 went unspent, and in 2012-13 only $49,775 wasn’t used.
But in 2013-14, $6.6 million in funds went unspent.
And there’s no way to get it back.
“The funding has lapsed and the department is unable to spend any of the $6.6M,” the document says.
A spokeswoman for Employment and Social Development said the lapse is due to the fact that the funds were not approved by Parliament until December 2013.
“For that reason, there wasn’t an opportunity to conduct a full call for proposals for community-based projects within that fiscal year which prevented the Department from allocating all 2013 EAF funding,” Marie-France Faucher wrote in an email.
Faucher said in order to spend as much money as possible, the government went back to the list of 2012 projects that had been approved but couldn’t be funded because of insufficient money at the time.
McCallum compared the lapse to other recent instances, such as $1.1 billion in unspent funding at Veterans Affairs since 2006.
“We’re finding this in general, and we’re looking into this in more depth,” he said.
Projects completed using the fund include installing elevators, widening doorways, creating wheelchair-accessible washrooms, an accessible trailer and ramps.
The eastern Ontario riding of Renfrew-Nipissing–Pembroke, held by Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant, received the most funding at $3.5 million, followed by Conservative Gord Brown’s Leeds-Grenville riding, which received $3.1 million since 2011.
NDP MP Robert Chisholm’s Dartmouth-Cole Harbour riding in Nova Scotia, however, received the third-highest amount of funding: $2.4 million.