Another executive from Ottawa’s ‘green slush fund’ has resigned her post following evidence of inappropriate funding and conflict-of-interest breaches.
Annette Verschuren intends to depart Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) next month as chair, according to a letter to Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne.
“While I have faithfully and fully committed myself and my decision-making to serve the organization’s best interests, it is time for me to step aside,” she wrote in the letter, first obtained by The Globe and Mail. Verschuren, a government appointee, led the foundation’s board of directors since 2019.
The incoming departure adds another layer of controversy to the SDTC, who face a probe into providing $38 million in pandemic-relief to green energy firms, including $217,000 to a firm with ties to the SDTC chair.
On November 8, MPs pummeled the foundation chair with criticism for not recusing herself from the vote that funded NRStor Inc., a company in which she owns and serves on as CEO.
Wow. She straight up lied about doling out COVID-19 relief cash to her own company. Incredible. https://t.co/8qX8iOJTH7
— Andy Lee – Special Rebel Rapporteur (@RealAndyLeeShow) November 9, 2023
“I took the advice from my lawyer,” she told MPs on the committee. “I received legal advice and I think that was the proper approach.”
NRStor is one of roughly 140 firms that received equivalent pandemic funding in 2020 and 2021.
“That company […] received $106,000 in COVID relief payments in 2020, and another $111,000 the following year,” questioned Conservative MP Michael Cooper. “That is inconsistent with what you had previously stated.”
“It was 18 months before,” testified Verschuren. “Eighteen months before my appointment as chair NRStor was funded [by SDTC] for a project, yes.”
The businesswoman clarified her company has not received SDTC funding for any project since her appointment as chair of the foundation.
In her letter to Champagne, Verschuren contends her efforts since two weeks have prioritized a management action plan by Department of Innovation. “Continuous improvement is the foundation of any successful organization, and these assessments provided helpful recommendations for procedural improvements, which we wholeheartedly accept. We can always do better,” she wrote.
The chair of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) has been caught awarding her own company $217,000 in COVID relief payments during the pandemic.https://t.co/VhOU8LKhG8
— Rebel News (@RebelNewsOnline) November 9, 2023
In early October, Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada concluded an investigation into SDTC that uncovered inappropriate funding and breaches of conflict-of-interest rules. She wrote the board took the allegations “very seriously,” but contends the report “found no clear evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct by SDTC.”
Verschuren told the House of Commons ethics committee early this month that the report “contains numerous errors, and misrepresentations of our policies and procedures.”
However, True North that SDTC allocated tens of millions of dollars to firms in which its board members are financially vested. Records from the funding meetings are not public, so it remains unclear which committee members, if any, recused themselves.
Under its current agreement with the ISED, the green fund has $1.6 billion to distribute to clean tech enterprises between 2021 and 2026 — increasing in successive amounts before maxing at $320 million by 2025/26.
Nevertheless, Interim Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein announced Friday his intent to examine the chair’s role in the vote to extend pandemic-relief payments SDTC companies in 2020 and 2021. Verschuren did not address the investigation in her letter received by the Globe.
Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) has allocated tens of millions of dollars to firms in which its board members are financially vested.
— Rebel News (@RebelNewsOnline) November 15, 2023
Leah Lawrence, then-SDTC president and CEO, also departed the foundation amid its public downward spiral.
“Given recent media reports, House of Commons committee testimony, and the surrounding controversy, it is clear there has been a sustained and malicious campaign to undermine my leadership,” Lawrence penned in a letter to her board of directors on November 10.
“This compromises my future ability to lead the organization and puts me in an untenable situation. And I want to see this organization succeed,” she claimed, adding “a sustained and malicious campaign to undermine” her leadership, put her in an untenable position.
A whistleblower with the SDTC sent the federal government a complaint in March concerning their alleged mismanagement of funds, prompting Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton to identify conflicts of interest and problematic spending within the foundation.
Auditor General Karen Hogan also announced an investigation into its spending earlier this month.
ISED spokesperson Audrey Champoux told the Globe they will commence the search for Verschuren’s replacement momentarily.
“The minister is committed to ensuring that organizations which receive federal funding adhere to the highest of standards of governance,” she said. “That’s why he’s determined to get to the bottom of allegations related to SDTC.”