“The practice of hypocrisy is not merely indispensable to government, but is capable of being sustained without much difficulty for as long as may be required.”
~ Niccolo Machiavelli
“A government is an organized hypocrisy.”
~ Benjamin Disraeli
In the last of the closing legal arguments at the Gomery Inquiry, Sylvain Lussier, private Counsel to the Attorney-General of Canada, made a startling statement to the Commissioner. After vouching for the piety of conscience and purity of knowledge of both Prime Ministers Martin and Chrétien, he said that though it is true that former Public Works Minister Alfonso Gagliano put himself in difficult positions by attending meetings he could have refrained from, and though he did not impose the appropriate departmental rigour for which he should bear Ministerial responsibility, Mr. Gagliano had done “nothing illegal”. Furthermore, Me. Lussier went on, the political direction Mr. Gagliano provided in certain files was fully appropriate with his elected position. To quote Me. Lussier, “We elect politicians to make decisions and to show direction.”
He went on to say that the political side of the Minister’s operation was not at fault, and pointed the blame squarely at the bureaucrats including Chuck Guité. Even then he soft-pedaled his accusations by admitting that there were really no clear regulations for anyone to follow and much of the fault lay with the system itself. He encouraged the Commissioner to concentrate on making recommendations for improved regulatory oversight a touchstone of his report.
You may not read much of this in many of your daily newspapers whose reporters treasure their pre-conceived notions and ethnic caricatures like so many precious jewels. Add to that their lemming-like readiness to be co-opted by the current leaders of the Natural Governing Party, and you have a tailor-made recipe for the bodyguard of lies that has been characteristic of media coverage of the Gomery Inquiry. But I urge all of you to go to the Gomery website and read this eye-opening transcript.
Since Lussier’s arguments were almost identical to those put forward by Chrétien, Gagliano, law enforcement agencies and others at the very beginning, they beg the question of whether we have learned anything at all. Was the whole investigation taken out of the hands of the RCMP and the judicial system so that it could be politically controlled as a deflection from Prime Minister Martin’s own conflicts of interest? We thought it would be appropriate to put together a Top-Ten list of what we did, and didn’t, find out in this exercise in mud-slinging, character assassination and Canadian McCarthyism.
1. We found out that a lot of communications companies massively over billed the government for work done – and not done – and their invoices were never verified, or were ordered not to be verified. That the owners of those companies were Liberal friends of a Liberal government. And, finally, that some of the money those companies received made its way back to Liberal Party purposes, and sometimes in cash. Well, I guess that’s really an eye-opener. Particularly for Commission Chief Counsel Bernard Roy who served as Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Mulroney during what was arguably the most scandal-plagued period in our history with some seven Ministers forced to resign including then Public Works Minister Roch LaSalle. I suppose the lesson is that to be an efficient administration you should work only with your enemies. But then with friends like these who needs enemies?
2. We did not find out why there is no Inquiry into the reported $167,000 in Canada Steamship Lines contracts awarded during Mr. Martin’s tenure as Finance Minister being in reality $167,000,000. Nor why there is no Inquiry into the millions of dollars of contracts awarded to Earnscliffe Strategies where many of Mr. Martin’s political operatives worked. Nor why there is no Inquiry into the $1.5 billion dollars in guarantees awarded under Mr. Martin’s watch as Finance Minister in favour of Bombardier whose lobbyist was Mike Robinson, a principal in Earnscliffe and national campaign co-chair for Mr. Martin, who admitted on CTV to having talked with Mr. Martin’s Chief of Staff on this file. Nor why there is no Inquiry into the CSL affiliates transferred to the tax haven of Barbados that, according to Radio-Canada’s “Enjeux” documentary, avoided $300,000,000 of taxes by taking advantage of rule changes enacted while Mr. Martin was Finance Minister. But then one can reasonably conclude that Mr. Martin was not “mad as hell” about these matters since some of them touched very close to home and were beginning to appear almost daily in the press just before the Auditor-General’s report in February of 2004.
3. We found out that the amount of missing “value for money”, to use Auditor- General Sheila Fraser’s words, was less than half of what she thought, and almost half of the $80 million dollar cost of the Inquiry itself. As Allan Gregg put it in the Globe and Mail, it amounted to .015% of the federal budget each year of the sponsorship initiative. The Canadian Auto Worker’s chief economist Jim Stanford quantified it even more pointedly by equating it with the cost of a cup of coffee to each tax-paying Canadian each day. But that should not come as a surprise to Treasury Board President Reg Alcock who said over a year ago that the real amount of missing money may only be about $13 million and not the $100 million Fraser guesstimated. He was closer to the mark than she was…and he didn’t spend millions on a report. Nor was it a surprise to the Canadian Auditors Association who criticized Ms. Fraser’s “surprisingly unprofessional” hyperbole when she presented her report.
4. We did not find out why Ms. Fraser’s 2004 Report that set off this whole boondoggle was an almost exact replica of her 2001 and 2002 reports, missing only the sections that concluded that the problems in the administration of the sponsorship initiative had been rectified. But then that would have reflected well on the Chrétien side of the Liberal Party and an internecine party fight is certainly no place for an “independent” public servant like Ms. Fraser.
5. We found out that Mr. Martin’s own intimate circle of political associates were benefiting from the sponsorship monies as well. Documented evidence from civil servant Allan Cutler showed that Mr. Martin’s Chief of Staff in 1994 and 1996 sent memos to bureaucrats advocating for certain grant requests. That his Quebec assistant intervened for a $1 million dollar request for Serge Savard who ran Mr. Martin’s $1000 a ticket cocktails. That Jean Brault was told by Longeuil Mayor Jacques Olivier, one of Mr. Martin’s senior Quebec strategists, to, “…go to Mr. Corriveau and he will take care of you.” In other words, both the Chrétien and Martin wings of the party were dealing with the same people. All this might explain why Mr. Martin led the Liberal caucus in a rousing cheer for Mr. Chrétien after the latter’s appearance at Gomery, with Mr. Martin saying that, “Mr. Chrétien has done a great job for Canada.”
6. We did not find out why the Inquiry chose not to call any of these close associates of Prime Minister Martin to testify. But then it is probably enough for Canadians when they heard Mr. Martin at the Inquiry state unequivocally that he had no knowledge of what any of his staff were doing or of the details of the sponsorship initiative. Though he did admit he should have kept himself better informed since he was not only the Finance Minister, but as Deputy head of the Treasury Board, he was responsible for signing off on funding the initiative. All in all, a properly Canadian mea culpa.
7. We found out from the testimony of two former director-generals of the Liberal Party’s Quebec wing, Michel Beliveau and Benoit Corbeil, that John Rae, who works in the Office of the Chairman of Power Corp., would be called whenever the party needed an increase in its line of credit, which went from $300,000 to over $3,000,000. Allegedly, Mr. Rae would then call Mr. André Berard, the president of the National Bank, and the borrowing power of the LPC (Q) was increased, to use Mr. Corbeil’s term, “immediately”. This relationship, if true, raises three profoundly important questions. Firstly, If Mr. Rae’s calls were in the nature of a favour, what was the “quid pro quo” if any? Secondly, if Power Corp. was guaranteeing the borrowing, was this declared as a potential liability to its shareholders? If not, then were the services rendered declared as “consideration in kind” to the LPC (Q) as Justice Gomery has asked of so many of the corporations involved in the Inquiry? But the Commission chose not to call John Rae.
8. We did not find out the full extent of the intimacy between the LPC (Q) and Power Corp. When LPC (Q) past President Françoise Patry testified that she worked as a secretary, and the lawyer questioning her asked for whom she worked, Justice Gomery cut off the question. As it happens, Ms. Patry, during her tenure as President, was an administrative assistant in the Office of the Chairman of Power Corp, a job she continues to hold today. Every other witness was asked their backgrounds and current employment. The fact she was allowed to shield her employer raises a troubling sceptre of secrecy. Troubling because so much has been made during the hearings of who really controlled the LPC (Q), and yet the evidence that demonstrated that the money power and the political power of the LPC (Q) was in the hands of two representatives of one of Canada’s, and indeed the world’s, great corporate giants, was never investigated. It would be reasonable to speculate if the cause for the cover-up had anything to do with the fact that Prime Minister Martin’s senior dollar-a-year advisor, Maurice Strong, is a former Vice-Chairman and Board member of Power Corp. and was the man who introduced Mr. Martin to Power Corp.’s Chairman who helped Mr. Martin take control of Canada Steamship Lines.
9. We found out that in Canada it is normal for an “independent” Commission of Inquiry to have only one Judge; that it is not considered bias when that Judge makes subjective comments to the press; evidences pre-conceived notions of witnesses and testimonies; affords far greater latitude in questioning to Commission counsel than to the lawyers representing other interested parties; states in public that “…we pretty well know what happened even though we still have seventy days to go…”; does not challenge witnesses who state that they destroyed evidence and admit they acted on “intuition”; finds it reasonable that party officials acted against the wishes of Chrétien’s PMO; finds it reasonable that another political operative was provided coaching and legal assistance by the Martin PMO; allows some witnesses full-reign to smear reputations but stops those who have been smeared from responding; gives little credibility to witnesses who appear with documentation and evidence fully supporting their positions; castigates witnesses for signing pre-dated contracts then signs an $8 million dollar one himself for the Commission’s accountants. His excuse for the latter act? It was an emergency. Time was pressing. The same reason Chuck Guité gave for his actions but he at least backed it up with Treasury Board guidelines submitted last year to the House Public Accounts Committee. Who gave Gomery his guidelines?
10. We did not find out why? Why was this transparently sinister McCarthyite double standard countenanced in our democracy? Why did Justice Minister Cotler plead in Parliament for the presumption of innocence for the Liberal Party, but that same Party allowed the rule of law to be left in tatters at the Gomery Inquiry? Why were Charter guarantees of fundamental justice abandoned for a Commission that was nothing more than a political settling of accounts? Any reasonable person can sense the low limitation and narrow circumstance in Canada of what Walter Lippmann once called the “public philosophy”. One need look no further than lawyer Doug Mitchell, who successfully prevented the state rape of his client, former BDC President François Beaudoin, yet now represents the interests of the Liberal machine that attempted it.
This list is not exhaustive. And it is not meant to excuse one group of Liberals over another. Frankly it is time to say a plague on all their houses and send the Party into the political wilderness for a badly needed bloodletting.
But this list is a warning. A warning that these hypocrisies will continue into the final report. A report that will recommend that nothing in government be bought or done or acted upon without layers of bureaucracy and oversight. There will be a pretense - in that typical smug, self-satisfied Canadian way - that something was actually accomplished. Yet, in reality, this was all a lot of toil and trouble signifying nothing.
The powerful and privileged will still gain access to politicians at private little dinners. But the vulnerable and unempowered will have the voices of their advocates compromised by politicians who will use the Gomery report as a pious excuse for inaction. An inaction that was inherently their purpose to begin with.
Our politicians do not seek to relieve suffering, or cure injustice or free the many from want or enforce the equity of just consideration. They choose instead to run between the raindrops awaiting their paycheques and pensions while they serve the vested interests in this country that will provide them with a seat on a corporate board when they leave office. The Gomery Commission will be used by the political masters who created it as a two-edged sword of craft and oppression.
We can only hope that we Canadians will finally have enough of the deceipt, duplicity and deception. Have enough of the false pieties that pretend that governance can be accomplished in a virgin bubble. Come to understand what Churchill meant when he called the business of politics “trench warfare”. And finally rise up and resolve to re-establish the sovereignty of our own suffrage.
If we fail, we may, in the words of Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby, “Lose sight of what our democracy is all about.”