“The broad mass of a nation will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.”
The Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Affair is arguably the greatest political fraud ever perpetrated on the Canadian public. A Ponzi scheme could not have been constructed with more premeditated malicious intent. Ostensibly established to “clean up” the national political landscape, one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s main purpose was to deflect attention from the galloping growth of Paul Martin’s conflicts of interest in CSL, in Lansdowne Technologies, in 28 offshore companies headquartered in Barbados and in Earnscliffe Strategies which has now finally become the subject of a House Public Accounts Committee investigation.
The damage it has done to this fragile “controlled democracy” in which we live - the true heart of darkness in this process – is much more grievous to the commonweal than any over billing by ad agencies or any amount of arm-twisting for greater donations to party purposes. And not just because it has spent $80 million to find $13 million.
This Commission’s great crime is that it has callously compromised any semblance of due process of law in proceedings that are nothing less than star chambers. Established from the outset as nothing more than a McCarthyite witch hunt, it has allowed the slithering serpentine virus of invective and innuendo to infect our body politic. And it has attempted to validate its existence as an example of just consideration under law. This unholy construct born of mendacity will crumble from the corrosion of its own inherent corruption.
Reputations ruined by hearsay and half-truths go unchallenged because this Commissioner disallows any reasonable degree of examination of witnesses by anyone other than Commission counsels. Indicted defendants are allowed to machine-gun libels at will in an effort to throw out enough juicy tidbits with which to bait deals with the Crown. A score of ministers, dozens of political operatives and just about every other Liberal of any importance who has not pledged undying fidelity to the Martin cult are grilled on matters five and even ten years old that no reasonable person can be expected to remember. State sanctioned public political executions for the diversion of the masses.
Martin could not have chosen better chefs d’orchestre. Judge Gomery has made enough prejudicial statements that would have resulted in his forcible recusal in any normal legal setting – even in a banana republic. He even awarded a non-tendered contract to one firm for all accounting services. The very behaviour Martin supposedly found so objectionable and used as part of the raison d’etre for the Inquiry. Chief Counsel Bernard Roy masterfully projects the appropriate degree of indignant false piety reveling in the fact that his past as the Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Mulroney - during one of the most scandal plagued periods in recent times with some half dozen Ministers forced to resign - goes unmentioned by the media allowing him to attempt to reverse his own deflowering. Can any rational thinking person worthy of the title citizen conclude that all this is mere coincidence?
We are being sold a bill of goods cheaper than Peter Minuet stuffed down the natives’ throats for Manhattan.
If the point of this exercise was to expose fraud by government suppliers or attempts to gain financial favors by public officials than it should have remained in the hands of the RCMP so that lives would not be ruined until there was sufficient evidence to warrant legal proceedings. No one held a gun to the heads of the bureaucrats who authorized the government cheques. The same institutional intimacies so widely condemned have been, and continue to be, routinely practiced by all leaders of all parties. There is no legitimacy to retroactive change to rule and regulation to suit a political goal.
If the point of this exercise was to send a message that all government work should be approved by drawn out bid processes and not simply handed out to government supporters then this is in and of itself a fraud. No government can deliver the services the public needs in an efficient and timely manner working that way and the Prime Minister knows it. A governing party cannot be forced to work with its enemies only to prove a point. That is nothing but sophomoric sophistry and a pedantic exercise in futility. Treasury Board guidelines have for decades left provision for the awarding of single bid contracts in cases of urgency. The House Public Accounts Committee were shown those guidelines early on as was the rest of the country and the media.
If the point of this exercise was to demonstrate a cheap civics lesson that it is wrong for supporters of a party to have easy and timely access to decision makers then this too is not only wrong but patently hypocritical. If citizens give of their time, talent and treasure to participate in the public affairs of this land then they should be given preferential consideration and not brought down to the lowest common denominator of the vast majority of Canadians who wallow in slothful complaining but would faster spend $100 on a sporting event than on a political dinner.
And finally if the point of this exercise is to exonerate Martin from any suggestions that he participated in events that seemed to involve financial contributions and political considerations then there is surely no legitimacy whatever in this Commission since this very Prime Minister who established it was the guest at a $5000 a head dinner this very week, in addition to his well-known high-priced encounters with supporters in the past, and has had several of his senior aides implicated in calls for sponsorship dollars from 1994 to 2003.
No, this is all about hypocrisy in the highest degree. It’s about political hatchet jobs. Everyone involved knows very well that wherever the money went the Liberal Party remained millions of dollars in the red. This whole process is about pulling the wool over the eyes of Canadians relying on the fact that they can’t even recognize their own lethargy because they’re sitting on it. Relying on Canadians’ self-doubt that has been driven home by a jealousy of others self-belief. Relying on Canadians having traded individual integrity and conscience for obsequious obedience to the false security of petty nanny-state handouts.
In his first budget as Finance Minister Paul Martin stated that the previous administration had lost the “moral authority to govern because of its fiscal failures”. What then are we to say of the moral authority of his own?
The Prime Minister knows full well that after the nearly-disastrous 1995 Referendum, Canada’s national political elite signed on to plans to destroy the separatist threat at any cost. He was there. Liberals and Tories recognized that job one of a Federal government was to keep this country together. The pathetic whining and bleating of the hockey-rink dads and soccer moms about their passports and pensions resonated like white noise across the land.
None of the leaders much cared how it was done as long as the voters could be satisfied. Besides, the specific tactics were unimportant. The overall strategy and structure had already been in place since Mulroney’s time with tens of millions of discretionary dollars allocated for Canadian unity initiatives with little or no reporting obligations.
All the Liberal leaders were very happy in the 2000 elections when federalists won Quebec for the first time in twelve years. Part of the reason was that the 1001 “silly” initiatives of sponsorship produced summer jobs for kids in Alma and Abitibi; and part-time work in local programs from the Saguenay to the Mauricie; and the flag was waved in all areas of “le Québec profonde”. Yes, it was bread and circuses. But that too is politics and it has worked since Roman times.
Nobody asked C.D.Howe and his dollar-a-year team how they got things done in World War II. The country backed Trudeau in his War Measures in 1970. Well, fighting separatism was a war too. A “cold” war. And government propaganda was a perfectly legitimate tool. If citizens didn’t like what they saw and heard they could always “throw the scoundrels out” in the next ballot. But whatever happened, the sponsorship initiative was a far cry from a pre-meditated sacking of the public purse for private gain and was far less than what the PQ were doing through communications firm Oxygene Neuf during the nineties.
And part of the reason the Liberals lost Québec in 2004 was not the “buying” of Quebec voters as the separatist spin-masters put it. If that was true they would have lost in 2000. Rather it was Martin’s unfortunate and untrue comment that “…this was the way politics was played in Quebec…” Well, in Quebec, politics is a national sport. And Quebecers have a low tolerance for bullshit. This is part of politics everywhere. If politicians are looking for purity of motive they should leave the corridors of power and get themselves to monasteries.
Sponsorship only became “scandalized” when it became part of the Martinites arsenal to wrest control of Chrétien’s political ministry in Quebec in 1999-2000. Their attacks against Chrétien’s political Minister for Quebec, Alfonso Gagliano, were two pronged. The first thrusts were accusations that he had recommended a friend of his for a $72,000 job at Canada Lands. Even Jon Grant, Chairman of Canada Lands, claimed in a CTV interview that though he didn’t much like Gagliano, he felt the Minister’s actions were more improper than illegal but not at all unusual in our system.
That issue would have been enough since that led to Chrétien shipping Gagliano off to Denmark. In typical Canadian hypocrital fashion however no one bothered to investigate the La Presse revelations that Jean Charest’s brother Robert had been given a Canada Lands position much earlier for $147,000 and hadn’t seemed to show up very often. Nor the well-known fact that several federal Ministers and officials had their relatives on Ministerial or Departmental payrolls. This hushed-up “tradition” exists even till the present day when Justin Kingsley, the son of Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Chief of Elections Canada, obtained a position in Martin’s PMO.
But the sponsorship cat was out of the bag. That had been the second thrust of the Martinites on the ground in Quebec. Local political operatives found it a handy brush with which to tar and starting spreading rumours that were hard to trace—either to them or to their veracity. It created enough political fodder that Chrétien Public Works Minister Dan Boudria sent the issues to the Auditor-General for review instead of letting the RCMP finish its work on Groupaction and several other companies.
The A-G came back with nothing more than a regurgitation of her previous reports for the simple reason that she had twice investigated at Chrétien and Gagliano’s requests and deemed all appropriate corrective measures were in place to fix the administrative problems in the initiative. But somehow that part was left out of her public comments and the newly-minted report. Given the events in Ottawa at the time it would not be inappropriate to question whether Fraser had some coaching on the subjective characterizations she used in her press conference.
Between November 2003 and the A-G’s report in February 2004 different stories began to hit the front pages. Stories about Martin’s private interests not about Chrétien’s public agenda.
The reported $167,000 that Canada Steamship Lines had benefited from through a variety of considerations during Martin’s tenure as Finance Minister was corrected to $167,000,000. Mr. Martin claimed it was a bureaucratic error not a cover-up. Earnscliffe Strategies, the Ottawa government relations firm located in a building next door to the Langevin bloc, where so many of Mr. Martin’s operatives worked on payroll, was revealed to have received millions in government contracts including work from the Finance Ministry during Mr. Martin’s tenure. The explanation was that he was never directly involved. Lansdowne Technologies, a fully owned sub of CSL, based in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata and the recipient of millions of government grants, subventions and credits, was left off Mr. Martin’s disclosure statements in 1993 and 1994. An accounting oversight the public was told. The EDC supplied a $1.5 billion guarantee so that Air Wisconsin, a near-bankrupt company, could buy six jets from Bombardier represented by Mike Robinson, Martin’s national campaign co-chair, who collected a tidy commission. Robinson stated in a television interview that though he communicated with staffers of the then Finance Minister, he never talked to Mr. Martin himself about this.
All these stories somehow disappeared after that famous day in February 2004 when Auditor-General Sheila Fraser became prosecutor, judge and jury verbally declaring that “…every rule in the book…” had been broken in the sponsorship initiative; the PMO released the recall of Gagliano to the press lock-up at the same time as they got the new A-G report; and Mr. Martin went on television to declare he was “…mad as hell…” And now we have Gomery acting as prosecutor, judge and jury.
But all this orchestration, meant to deflect attention from what was becoming a series of Martin “embarrassments” at the least and “scandals” at worst, are not working out quite so neatly and cleanly. As a truly great leader once said, “You can’t fool all the people all the time.” We have learned during the House Public Accounts hearings, and through Gomery, that Martin aides intervened in the sponsorship initiative to try and direct dollars to their friends. Written memos presented by sponsorship bureaucrat Allan Cutler shows Martin staff inquiries dating back to the mid-90’s. Testimony has revealed Martin staff phone calls on behalf of Serge Savard who ran $1000 ticket cocktails for Mr. Martin, and whose son was a Liberal candidate in the last election, regarding a million dollar sponsorship participation.
None of this is to say that one side are saints and the other sinners. Life is never black and white just varying shades of gray. There was no inquiry into the $1 billion overrun in the gun registry. A total cover-up of the $165 million over-billing by Hewlett Packard of the Department of National Defense. But as Churchill said, one thing is true “Governing is hard. Politics is trench warfare.” And in Canada that warfare is made all the harder by the fact that we lave one of the lowest rates of active citizen participation in the Western world. It has been said that liberty demands responsibility and that’s why so many dread it. Well dread it Canadians may, but it’s time to shake up the good-time Charlies and the sunshine patriots that unfortunately make up the overwhelming majority of our citizenry.
What is at stake today is nothing less than the vindication of Canadian consequence. Paul Martin and his Liberals are not the heirs of Trudeau. They are the heirs of Nixon. What they are engaged in is nothing less than the perversion of our Parliamentary democracy and the subversion of our Constitutional protections. They have been practicing the politics of duplicity and deceit. If they are counting on Canadians having been rendered so senseless that they cannot recognize how they have been manipulated, they are making a grave error. We are not so loyal to the sovereignty of self-abnegation that we will fail to redeem our national purpose.
We need a leadership in this new millennium that is true and bold. A leadership that does not rest on top of a fence but one that climbs heights. And from those heights presents a noble vision candidly proposed and clearly proclaimed. Paul Martin will be challenged to allow for an open and honest contest for the leadership of a party of principle, as well as power, in order to secure the future of this nation. The great and good people of this land are rousing from their slumber. They will seek to realize the possibilities of their capacities. And Mr. Martin and his cohorts will finally come to understand the admonition of Frederick the Great that, “It is a political error to practice deceit if deceit is carried too far.”