The president of the board of directors of a federal foundation for green technology is leaving a few days after an announcement that she is the subject of an investigation by the ethics commissioner.
Appointed by the Liberal government to head Sustainable Development Technologies Canada (SDTC) in 2019, Annette Verschuren told Canadian Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne she will be leaving Dec. 1.
Verschuren was heavily criticized by MPs from all political parties after confirming she had participated in the approval of a payment of more than $200,000 in subsidies to a private firm she runs.
Verschuren recently told a parliamentary committee that in 2020 and 2021 she moved a motion to grant additional financing to companies that had already concluded financing agreements with SDTC. The total funding of $40 million was intended to help businesses financially survive the problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That decision resulted in additional funding of $217,000 to NRStor, a company in the field of energy storage, which Verschuren has led since 2012. She told MPs on the committee that NRStor pays her an annual salary of $120,000.
In response to a request from the Conservative Party, ethics commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein confirmed last week he was launching an investigation into whether or not Verschuren had placed herself in a conflict of interest.
Under questioning by MPs on the committee, Verschuren said she received a legal opinion supporting the decision to funnel additional financing to companies, including NRStor.
The reason she didn’t have to recuse herself, she explained, is that her firm was part of a group of about 100 companies that received the same level of additional funding from SDTC during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NRStor, in this context, had not benefitted from preferential treatment, she said.
SDTC finances small- and medium-sized businesses in the field of environmental technologies, with the mandate to distribute $1 billion in federal funding over five years.
The foundation was the target of a whistleblower denunciation earlier this year due to its management of human resources and public funds. A report from the firm Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton noted several failures, including in the management of conflicts of interest.
In her resignation letter, Verschuren said the firm found no clear evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct on the part of SDTC.
“Continuous improvement is the foundation of any successful organization and these evaluations have provided useful recommendations for improving procedures, which we wholeheartedly accept. We can always do better,” she wrote.
The president and CEO of SDTC, Leah Lawrence, resigned on Nov. 10.
“As we can see in media reports, testimony before House of Commons committees and the surrounding controversy, it is clear that there has been a sustained and malicious campaign to undermine my leadership,” Lawrence said in a letter to its board of directors.
“This calls into question my ability to lead the organization and places me in an untenable situation. However, I want this organization to succeed.”
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