Let me thank you, of course, and through you thank the members of this committee.
It is indeed a pleasure to be here today, and in particular to address the events and decisions surrounding the 2010 G-8 summit and my role therein.
With the indulgence of the members, I'd like to rewind the clock a little bit and take us all back to just over three years ago, to June 2008. At that time the Government of Canada proudly announced that a world-class leadership event would be held in Canada in the Muskoka region.
An enormous amount of work went into preparing for that event. Many departments took part and the planning was done jointly by the federal, provincial and municipal governments. International authorities were also involved.
Ultimately, preparations for the 2010 G-8 summit involved a two-year process. The outcome was an event that has been praised internationally as a model for how future summits can engage with local communities. It was a summit that produced, amongst other things, the internationally acclaimed Muskoka initiative on maternal and newborn health, as well as an opportunity to showcase to the world our country's economic strength and unparalleled natural beauty.
There was, of course, a strong interest on the part of local mayors, municipal officials, businesses, artists, students, and other citizens to find a way to play a coordinated role in this important event. This led to the founding of what was then known as the local area leadership group, which held its first meeting on September 12, 2008.
Now, this group was set up primarily as a way of providing community leaders and others an opportunity to be briefed by government officials on developments that would affect the community throughout the G-8 planning process.
This leadership group also enabled the community leaders to dialogue and exchange ideas about the best ways to meet their community's needs during this incredibly important event.
I want to stress this, though: this was not, however, a decision-making body, and never behaved in that capacity.
Every municipality in the region was represented at the table, and every one of those meetings was followed by a press conference with local media as a way of engaging the public on progress being made on summit planning.
Now, several months after the first local meeting, on February 6, 2009, I announced on behalf of the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure the creation of the G-8 infrastructure fund, which had been funded in the January 27 budget of that year.
Local mayors and officials were of course keen to take part in the G-8 infrastructure program. They began drafting proposals for a wide variety of projects. In all, municipalities in the region came up with 242 different ideas for G-8 projects.
Now, since there were far too many project ideas for available funds, and since some of the ideas clearly fell outside federal jurisdiction, I then proposed to the mayors a simple, straightforward process through which they could focus on the project proposals that really mattered to them and the region. I suggested that they, amongst themselves and with their councils, identify their top priorities and, based on their own judgment, weed out those proposals they considered to be of low need or outside federal jurisdiction.
Since other mayors didn't want to submit proposals via the Huntsville mayor, I offered my constituency office in Huntsville as a depository where proposals could be dropped off and from there forwarded to federal officials.
These suggestions received a positive reception by the mayors and community leaders, and they worked cooperatively to identify their top priorities. Essentially, each mayor reviewed the proposals for his or her area and brought forward only those they considered a priority.
Most of these focused on improvements to enhance tourism, something the mayors felt was important given the international attention that, through the G-8 summit, would provide millions upon millions of dollars' worth of free publicity and resulting economic encouragement to the region.
Ultimately 33 projects were sent to Infrastructure Canada for review. Infrastructure Canada officials, operating independently, engaged their due diligence process on the 33 proposals put forward, and advised the Minister of Infrastructure which projects were eligible for funding.
In the end, a total of 32 G-8 legacy projects were approved. A public announcement for each funded project was held with media and the general public present.
As the members of this committee know, in order to maximize accountability to taxpayers, our government consulted the Auditor General at the time and proactively asked her to look not only at the expenses of the G8 summit, but also at those of the G20 summit.
The Auditor General fully investigated the G-8 fund and confirmed that every penny spent is accounted for, and has also clearly stated that there is no reason for any further audit of the fund.
In fact, just recently, the interim Auditor General, while testifying before this parliamentary committee, reaffirmed this position.
In her report however, the then Auditor General did make recommendations to improve the administrative processes. This includes the process I outlined just a couple of minutes ago, in which I asked local municipal officials to prioritize their own project submissions.
I can assure you that I have taken the Auditor General's recommendations with regard to the administration of the intake process very seriously, and I certainly accept her conclusions.
In hindsight, it may have been better for infrastructure officials to review all 242 initial proposals and not simply encourage the local mayors to collaborate and focus their requests in the interests of efficiency and time. It is worth reiterating, however, that every penny of the G-8 infrastructure fund was accounted for. The Auditor General's report is clear on this.
I have spoken at length about these issues in public already, including at the House of Commons government operations committee on June 20. In fact, members, since January 1, 2010, a total of 53 witnesses have appeared before two House of Commons standing committees on the G-8 legacy fund and the G-20 leaders summits. In all, House committees have spent 39 hours hearing testimony and discussing this topic. Today's meeting will bring this total to 41 hours.
Today I am hopeful that with me, with of course my colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and with the gathered federal officials here at the table we can finally put an end to the assertions contending that the review process undertaken was in any way unethical, and members can then move on to their reviews of other government operations pertaining to the rest of a large $280-billion federal budget.
I thank you.