The President of the Board of Directors of Sustainable Development Technologies Canada (SDTC), Annette Verschuren, has announced her departure a few days after the disclosure of an investigation by the ethics commissioner. Appointed by the Liberal government in 2019, Verschuren informed Canadian Federal Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry François-Philippe Champagne of her decision to step down on December 1.
Verschuren faced criticism from MPs across party lines after acknowledging her involvement in approving a payment exceeding $200,000 in subsidies to a private firm she leads. During recent testimony before a parliamentary committee, she revealed that in 2020 and 2021, she advocated for additional financing to companies that had already secured agreements with SDTC. This $40 million funding initiative aimed to assist businesses financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result of this decision, NRStor, an energy storage company led by Verschuren since 2012, received an additional $217,000. She clarified to the committee that her annual salary from NRStor is $120,000 and defended her actions by stating that NRStor did not receive preferential treatment, as approximately 100 other companies received similar additional funding during the pandemic.
In response to a request from the Conservative Party, ethics commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein confirmed an investigation into whether Verschuren had placed herself in a conflict of interest. During the committee questioning, Verschuren asserted that she had obtained a legal opinion supporting the decision to provide additional financing to companies, including NRStor.
SDTC, responsible for financing small- and medium-sized businesses in environmental technologies with a mandate to distribute $1 billion in federal funding over five years, had previously come under scrutiny for HR and fund management issues following a whistleblower’s complaint. A report from Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton highlighted various failures, including in conflict of interest management.
In her resignation letter, Verschuren maintained that there was no clear evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct by SDTC. She acknowledged the need for continuous improvement, stating, “These evaluations have provided useful recommendations for improving procedures, which we wholeheartedly accept. We can always do better.”
Notably, Leah Lawrence, the President and CEO of SDTC, had resigned on Nov. 10, citing a sustained and malicious campaign to undermine her leadership in media reports and testimony before House of Commons committees. In a letter to the board of directors, Lawrence expressed concerns about her ability to lead the organization but emphasized her desire for its success.
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