Clement defends tax dollars for Maoist tribute

Treasury board president Tony Clement



OTTAWA - Treasury Board President Tony Clement is defending federal spending of $2.5 million on a centre dedicated to Canadian Maoist communist Dr. Norman Bethune.

"He was a great innovator and inventor of medical instruments that saved many thousands of lives," Clement told reporters in Winnipeg Thursday.

"Those are the kind of things we're honouring. And to suggest that I myself or members of our government are soft on communism is quite frankly laughable."

But Clement - who has taken heat in the past for the $50 million worth of G8 Infrastructure Legacy funds spent throughout his Ontario riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka - said the federal stimulus dollars spent on this project were no different from cash that was spread across the country.

"My riding received its fair share like 307 other ridings did," said Clement, who attended the centre's grand opening in Gravenhurst, Ont., 170 kilometres north of Toronto, earlier this week.

"It helped the country weather the recession. That was the purpose of the infrastructure funding."

Clement added the centre is expecting a flood of Chinese visitors to the site after that country granted Canada an approved destination status in 2010.

China moved to make it easier for Chinese tourists to visit Canada after Prime Minster Stephen Harper made overtures to thaw relations between the two countries.

The funding for the project on the Parks Canada site was announced with fanfare in 2009 by Clement but was green-lighted by then Environment Minister Jim Prentice.

Bethune is a controversial Canadian figure famous as a battlefield surgeon and as an ardent communist who travelled to China in 1938 to to treat troops fighting alongside Mao Zedong.

Mao - who went on to head one of the most murderous regimes in history - used Bethune in his propaganda after the Canadian doctor's death in 1939. He remains a national hero in China.

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