A legend once more

GREG WESTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

OTTAWA -- From all-star football fame to government hall of shame, CFL great Ronny Stewart is legendary once more, this time for taking the public purse on a 26-year end-run that is definitely one for the record books.

Stewart's latest outstanding achievement award is an entire 42-page chapter in Auditor General Sheila Fraser's most recent compendium of government waste and mismanagement.

Fraser's 12-part report has it all -- government mega-projects up to 6,000% over budget; pilfered federal pensions; rigged bids for a billion-dollar moving contract.

But for sheer wow, nothing comes close to the exploits of the fabled Ottawa Rough Rider who traded pigskin for pork, and scrimmaging for scamming.

Caution: What follows may cause ordinary taxpayers to experience periods of nausea, hysteria and prolonged fits of hopelessness. (Admittedly, we were rolling in the aisles over its utter absurdity.)

The saga began in 1977, when Stewart was appointed head of the federal inmate complaints department, the so-called Corrections Investigator, a position he apparently turned into the government dream-job of all time -- money for nothing, and the computers are free.

Let's start with his holidays: Stewart never reported having taken a single day of paid vacation in his last 14 years on the job.

Instead, each year, he took the cash -- one year he actually took it twice -- a nice little year-end windfall totalling $222,000 over the 14 years Fraser's bean counters checked the records in Stewart's shop.

The real mystery, however, is how so much apparent devotion to work actually produced so little of it.

Staff told the auditors that Stewart rarely attended his own office meetings or functions, almost never met with anyone on official business, and wasn't even a member of his own management committee.

Other than Stewart's creative expense and travel claims -- more on that in a moment -- and "a few items of correspondence," the auditors combing his office filing drawers found them all but empty of any meaningful paperwork. So what the heck was he doing all those years for his six-figure salary?

The auditors checked his cellphone and gas records, and determined that in Stewart's final six years on the job, he was actually on hookey for 319 days, about six weeks shy of a full year.

Most of that time was spent at his cottage a couple of hours from the capital, an isolated spot on an island with no telephone to interrupt his deep thinking about inmate problems.

All in all, in that six years alone, he pocketed about $150,000 in salary he did not earn.

The auditors reviewed his expense accounts for the same years and concluded that of 16 supposed business trips, "we could not identify any (office) business conducted during 12 of those trips, and we have concluded they were personal."

Stewart claimed over $7,000 in expenses for those 12 junkets that included: Five trips to cities hosting the Grey Cup; one to his high school reunion; one to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame dinner; four to Kingston; and one to Toronto.

On his travel claims for week-long trips to the Grey Cup, Stewart reported that he was in each city "to investigate inmate complaints."

Even when he was at home, Stewart was doing some fancy footwork with his hospitality claims, 58 of which the auditors concluded were to wine and dine "relatives, friends and acquaintances," another roughly $5,000 of public funds spent for no official work done.

A really nice touch that should warm the hearts of taxpayers everywhere: Stewart not only submitted his own expense claims, he approved them, too. All very efficient.

Today, for all of his devoted work-avoidance, Stewart is still on the public payroll, merrily collecting his pension of about $75,000 a year.

Uh oh. Ron Stewart has been tackled by Sheila Fraser.

First down Mounties.


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