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Leef defends CanNor spending practices

Yukon's MP is defending the Conservative government's Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency after Canada's auditor general criticized it for not adequately measuring its effectiveness.

Yukon’s MP is defending the Conservative government’s Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency after Canada’s auditor general criticized it for not adequately measuring its effectiveness.

Earlier this month, Auditor General Michael Ferguson said in his annual spring report that the federal funding agency, commonly known as CanNor, needs to do a better job of gauging whether the money it spends across the North is doing any good.

The agency “is not adequately monitoring the contributions it pays out” and doesn’t know whether the funding it provides is helping economic development in the North, Ferguson said at a news conference releasing the report.

Leef counters that measuring all the benefits of CanNor funding is difficult, but that doesn’t mean the projects haven’t been worthwhile.

In some cases, Ferguson found that CanNor took too long to deliver funds to program applicants, leaving them little time to actually use the money granted to them. In other cases, money was given to applicants before formal contribution agreements had been signed.

In many cases, the government couldn’t prove the money handed out was helping, Ferguson said.

“Without a question, it’s helping,” Leef said.

“When you’re trying to stat-track and match metrics on paper, it can be a bit of a challenge. But when you get on the ground, like I am in the territory, and you see the dollars and growth, there has been a tremendous return on CanNor investments,” he said.

Leef pointed to money spent to help develop new retail spaces along Carcross’s waterfront.

The Carcross Commons, as it’s called, is one of the Carcross Tagish First Nation’s economic development initiatives. CanNor money was awarded to help pay for the construction of five retail spaces and a board walk, which the CTFN development corporation hopes will help bring in more money from tourists in the summer.

Given how new the Commons are - last year was its first full operating season - it’s too early to measure whether the money was well spent, said Leef.

“We haven’t seen a tremendous economic boom there yet, but it does add a beautiful physical dynamic to the community. Those things are hard to measure in a tangible sense,” Leef said.

That doesn’t mean the government disputes everything Ferguson had to say, however.

“You know, Minister (Leona) Aglukkaq (whose department of aboriginal affairs is ultimately responsible for administering CanNor) accepts the recommendations and is looking forward to making necessary changes to the program.

“Those are welcome and helpful recommendations, when the auditor general reviews programs,” Leef said.

CanNor was created in 2009 as a way to funnel government funds to the North and spur economic development.

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