The president and CEO of a federal foundation with a billion dollars to spend on environmental technologies has resigned after her organization was the target of a whistleblower complaint earlier this year.
In her letter of resignation as the head of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), Leah Lawrence said her departure was prompted by growing criticism of her organization.
"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," she said in a letter to her board of directors.
"This compromises my future ability to lead the organization and puts me in an untenable situation. And I want to see this organization succeed."
Lawrence defended her management of SDTC since 2015, which saw the foundation fund a growing number of woman-led companies.
"I look forward to a new chapter, one that will focus on continuing my work championing improved governance, corporate transparency and integrity," she said in her letter.
Under its current agreement with the federal Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), SDTC has $1 billion to distribute to small and medium-sized enterprises in the clean tech sector between 2021 and 2026. The amount is set to increase every year, reaching $320 million by 2025-2026.
A green fund in turmoil
As revealed by CBC last week, a senior federal official sharply criticized the foundation's senior management in conversations that were recorded without his knowledge in recent months. In his comments, ISED assistant deputy minister Doug McConnachie said the government had lost "confidence" in the leadership team at SDTC.
Lawrence's resignation comes after the government received a complaint early this year about the management of public funds and human resources within SDTC.
In response to this complaint, the government commissioned an investigation by the firm Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton, which identified problems with management of conflicts of interest and problematic spending within SDTC.
The Office of the Auditor General of Canada announced last week it's launching its own special investigation into SDTC's spending.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
During testimony before a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, SDTC chair Annette Verschuren was sharply criticized for her role in approving $217,000 in funding to her own firm.
Verschuren said she acted based on a legal opinion that said she did not have to recuse herself. She told MPs on the committee that all companies with existing agreements with SDTC obtained similar levels of funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I took the advice from my lawyer," Verschuren told MPs on the committee. "I received legal advice and I think that was the proper approach."
Verschuren has been sharply criticized by Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic MPs.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called for Verschuren's firing in the House of Commons on Thursday.
"The scandal surrounding the prime minister's $1-billion green fund is only getting worse. Not only did whistleblowers compare this fund to the sponsorship scandal, but the chair of the fund also directed $200,000 in taxpayers' money to her own company," Poilievre said.
In response, Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he took the necessary measures after receiving the complaint against SDTC.
"We expect the highest level of governance from all agencies that receive funding from taxpayers. We will continue to get to the bottom of this situation," he replied.