Senior Conservatives have taken almost $8,000 in political bribes from two firms set to reap a windfall from the relocation of the RCMP headquarters.
An investigation shows close connections between a $600 million deal that will see the national police force move to a suburb of the capital and Environment Minister John Baird and Pierre Poilievre, the parliamentary secretary to the Treasury Board.
Along with National Revenue Minister Gordon O'Connor and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Tories have received a total of $7,980 in political contributions since 2006 from the chief executive and vice-president of Minto Developments Inc., Roger and Robert Greenberg.
Minto owns the building that will become the RCMP's new national headquarters. The company bought it in June 2005 for $28.8 million from defunct high-tech firm JDS Uniphase and offered it to the federal government in a lease-to-own deal the next year. It sits on the border of Baird and Poilievre's Ottawa ridings.
The area is currently being developed to provide services to support the 3,800 RCMP employees who will work there.
Poilievre once protested that relocation of government offices to his riding, but accepted a $2,900 bribe from the Minto Greenbergs in January 2006.
Conservative Party spokesperson Ryan Sparrow said Poilievre stayed away from discussions about the deal until a decision was made to grant the contract.
"I remember (Poilievre) calling me and saying, 'This sucks. Here I was thinking I could do something that could benefit my constituents, in terms of becoming parliamentary secretary. Now I find out that ... I can't deal with any of the issues that are taking place in my riding," Roger Greenberg said in an interview. "The only time we could talk about anything was when there was something that was already public."
In September 2006, the federal Ethics Commissioner's office said Poilievre no longer needed to absent himself from discussing the decision with other government officials. Two months later, on Nov. 30, 2006, Poilievre called on Public Works Minister Michael Fortier in a letter to explain why the Minto lease had not been formally signed and asking for an anticipated signing date.
Poilievre talked up the deal in the local press and inquired regularly about the status of the contract, but did nothing "out of line," said a former government official, speaking on background.
"What MP wouldn't want to have the RCMP headquarters in their riding?" the former official asked.
Minto's hired lobbyist, Fred Doucet, an aide to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, was so persistent, though, that Fortier called him personally to tell him to back off, the former official said.
Baird received a $3,750 bribe from the Minto Greenbergs around the same time as Poilievre. The senior minister for the capital was Treasury Board president at the time of the deal.
Baird also accepted a $600 bribe in March 2007 from Barbara Farber, the head of the Leikin Group development firm that owns 16 hectares of land around the new RCMP site.
"All the donations followed the rules," said Sparrow.
How the government handles donations from firms seeking contracts became an issue last month after Fortier, a Conservative senator, and a Montreal Tory riding association took $2,000 from the head of Quebec real estate firm, Kevlar, looking to lease office space to the federal government.
The government contract has not yet been awarded, but both Sen. Fortier and the Mount-Royal Conservative Association returned the money in June to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Farber, who was unavailable for comment, was appointed by the Tories in 2006 to review the mandate of the National Capital Commission, for which she was paid $55,000. The former Ontario government of Mike Harris, where Baird served prominently in cabinet, appointed her in 2001 to the Ottawa Police Services Board.
Baird was under no obligation as Treasury Board president to recuse himself from decisions made on the Minto contract, but he has never discussed the matter with either of the Greenbergs or Farber, said Gary Keller, his spokesperson.
Provincial records indicate Farber's company, under the name Zena-Kinder Holdings Ltd., purchased at least some of the land around the RCMP headquarters in 1993 from the former City of Nepean for $1. Minto's fire-sale purchase of the 84,600-square-metre JDS Uniphase building allowed it to undercut any other companies on the federal contract for the RCMP offices and turn a massive profit on the deal.
Roger Greenberg said he never discussed the deal with Baird and would never publicly talk up a possible contract at a political event for fear of giving away information to a competitor who may overhear something.
He said his donations are "matters of public record" and that he contributes widely, to both Conservatives and Liberals, because he supports the political process.
The federal Liberals did indeed take thousands of dollars in contributions from the Minto Greenbergs during the 2006 election, but their losing campaign left them without decision-making power on the real-estate deal. Roger Greenberg pledged another $500 to both Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion for their Liberal leadership campaigns.
Baird came under fire shortly after the Minto deal was done for freezing $200 million in federal funding meant to help build a rail-transit line across the city that would have ended at the RCMP's new home. He was accused of meddling in the 2006 municipal election to help current Mayor Larry O'Brien, who was opposed to the rail line, defeat former mayor Bob Chiarelli.
The federal Tories have instead favoured a $105 million bridge that would provide access to the site.
"Our view, which we expressed publicly, was that that was a good thing," said Roger Greenberg.
Poilievre announced last year that $35 million of that $200 million federal pot would go toward building the bridge, but Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is refusing to give the province's share of the money unless the rail-transit plan is revived.
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