“Federal ethics commissioner investigating chair of board of directors over grants to a firm she directed”
The federal ethics commissioner has opened an inquiry into the conduct of the chair of the board of directors of a federal green fund after she approved more than $200,000 in grants to a private firm she was also directing. Ethics Commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein has agreed to look into the actions of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) board chair Annette Verschuren, in response to a letter from Conservative MP Michael Barrett.
Verschuren, who serves as the chair and chief executive officer of NRStor Inc., an energy storage firm based in Toronto, admitted to a parliamentary committee that she was involved in approving grants to NRStor totalling $217,000 in 2020 and 2021. This conduct takes place within the context of the federal green fund’s allocation of $40 million in grants to help companies financially survive the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Another Liberal under investigation for an ethics violation,” remarked Barrett in a social media post on Friday morning, calling further attention to the controversy.
### Contested legal opinion
According to Verschuren, she relied on a legal opinion that justified her involvement in the decision. She defended her actions, stating that her firm was part of a group of about 100 companies that received similar additional funding from SDTC amid the pandemic. She emphasized receiving advice from her lawyer, substantiating her decision and strategy.
The situation has attracted criticism from multiple Members of Parliament. NDP MP Matthew Green expressed concerns over what he viewed as a potential conflict of interest, and questioned Verschuren on this matter during parliamentary proceedings. Meanwhile, Liberal MP Pam Damoff, citing Verschuren’s extensive business experience, suggested that she should have known to recuse herself from the decision.
However, Verschuren maintained that she was comfortable with her actions, arguing that she did not receive preferential treatment as all companies with existing funding agreements from SDTC received additional pandemic-related payments as well.
### A foundation in turmoil
This case unfolds amid a turbulent period for Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC). The prior week, the organization’s president and CEO tendered her resignation, attributing the decision to the mounting criticism targeting the foundation. A recent whistleblower complaint has further complicated matters, prompting a government-sanctioned investigation revealing problems related to conflict of interest management and problematic spending within the organization.
In response to these revelations, the government has initiated a series of reforms within SDTC, and placed a hold on the foundation’s ability to award new funding until these changes are executed. Furthermore, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada has announced its intention to launch an independent investigation into SDTC’s spending.
Verschuren’s actions have contributed to additional fallout from the ongoing turmoil, drawing further attention to the prevailing challenges facing SDTC. As the situation continues to evolve, the implications of this case for the government’s broader climate and energy agenda remain a topic of significant interest and concern.
In sum, the complex dynamics at play underscore the critical importance of ethical oversight in navigating the opportunities and challenges of sustainable development initiatives. It is imperative for leaders in the public and private sector to be vigilant and transparent in their decision-making processes to uphold public trust and ensure the integrity of the governance framework. Only time will tell how these events contribute to the ongoing dialogue surrounding sustainable development and the associated governance mechanisms.