When terrorists attacked New York in 2001 and killed thousands of innocents, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien muttered that they got what was coming to them because they're so rich.
When the United States was convulsed by the Watergate scandal, Canadian intellectuals sniffed in satisfaction at watching a right-wing President brought down for covering up a break-in ordered by his re-election team. It couldn't happen here, they said. We have Question Period. We hold our governments accountable.
So superior. So spectacularly wrong.
The one time the Canadian system was tested, it failed---every test.
It could happen here.
It did happen here.
And they got away with it.
The Liberal Party is chortling in relief and triumph today. They got away with it.
John Gomery released his report and said the people to blame for stealing a few hundred million dollars of taxpayers money during Adscam were the Liberal Party, the other Liberal Party, the party of Jean Chretien.
Forget that everybody in this Liberal Party sat in the other Liberal Party and applauded Jean Chretien for his every move and gesture. Who remembers? Not the Press, that's for sure.
It was an aggressive press that chased the Watergate story to its ultimate conclusion. But that was in the United States. Canada, you will remember, is superior. The Press here is superior. We don't chase scandals like those ghastly Americans...
Watching the coverage of the Gomery report, we waited for someone to start talking about the cover-up. About the role of Paul Martin, Reg Alcock, and others right here in Manitoba, in doing their best to put a gloss over Adscam, to minimize the sponsorship scandal, to deflect blame, to pretend all was well and God and The Liberals were in Heaven as they should be.
So let us do the job of the Press and remind you what the Liberals did when their thievery was exposed.
It was 2002.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser had found the trail. The scent of corruption lead her directly to the Liberals. The government had given lots of money to Liberal-friendly companies, like Groupaction, which couldn't explain what work they did to earn the money. Sheila Fraser said people "broke every rule in the book" in making these deals. She said the RCMP should be called in to investigate possible fraud.
Her report got lots of press. The Liberals knew they had a problem, but the well-oiled machine swung into action to put out the fire before it grew too big to control.
- Step one. Since the scandal trail led directly to Public Works Minister Alfonso Gaglilano, get him out of town. Get him so far out of town nobody can question him any more.
- Step two. Attack the messenger. Smear Sheila Fraser and send a message yourself. This is what happens when you mess with The Liberals.
- Step three. Take over the "investigation." Get ahead of the posse. Lead them away from the trail. Get to the b-b-b-ottom of the scandal by making sure nobody gets hurt. Nobody in The Party, that is.
If Alfonso Gagliano has to go on the lam for a bit, he's got to go in style. It can't look as though he's being run out of town. He's got to get a parade. But quick.
So for his long service to the country and his deep interest in foreign countries (and we don't mean Quebec), Alfonso Gagliano found himself appointed Canada's ambassador to Denmark.
But first he had to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament to be vetted. Everyone, Liberals and Opposition, knew what was going on.
"The man is not qualified to be an ambassador to a small rural town in Kansas let alone to a country and the fact is, he hasn't faced up to the charges against him," said Canadian Alliance MP Brian Pallister.
"There is a cloud of sleaze and corruption over this minister," said NDP MP Svend Robinson, before his own proclivities for stealing expensive rings was revealed.
Gagliano had his defenders. In those days, that is. When they had to be sweet to him and get him away from investigators. Defenders, like Manitoba MP John Harvard.
"This is not a trial, and this is not a prosecution," said John Harvard, a true footsoldier in the Liberal army.
The Liberals who formed the majority on the committee blocked opposition questions about the allegations of impropriety during Mr. Gagliano's stint as a cabinet colleague of Paul Martin . They knew this was probably the last time the Opposition could question him about the scandal, since he was getting out of politics and beyond their reach.
There was one last hurdle to cross before the getaway was complete.
Law-breaking lawyer Svend Robinson moved a motion--
That the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade decline to support the nomination of Alfonso Gagliano as Canadian Ambassador to Denmark at this time, pending a full Parliamentary inquiry into the serious allegations of misconduct by Mr. Gagliano during his tenure as Minister of Public Works and Government Services, which if confirmed would adversely affect his qualifications to represent Canada as Ambassador to Denmark.
The Liberals easily defeated the motion. Voting Nay were: Sarkis Assadourian, Marlene Jennings, George Baker, Stan Keyes, Garard Binet, Pat O'Brien, John Harvard, Carolyn Parrish, and Paul Szabo.
Harvard got his own payoff from Paul Martin when he was appointed Manitoba's Lieutenant Governor. Apparently none of the local reporters could find him yesterday to ask about his role in the cover-up. But, then, maybe Harvard remembers...
* Step Two *
While the public applauded Sheila Fraser's 2002 report, the Liberals knew what they had to do. Hell, it's S-O-P for any gang. Mess with us and we mess with you.
No sooner had she started answering press questions than certain Liberal birdies began singing a funeral dirge for the Auditor General. Who's she to talk, they said. What's she know about anything?
Look, the Auditor General's office, should talk. She's made mistakes worth way more than a few measly sponsorship contracts. She didn't even notice an accounting mistake that had the provinces raking in $4 billion in equalization overpayments. What a loser. Shouldn't she be called on the carpet? New Brunswick Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc, a former Chretien staffer, said publicly it was time to "look into mistakes her office made".
Ontario MP Dan McTeague accused Fraser of being on a "witch hunt." Paul Martin liked his spunk. When he became Prime Minister he appointed McTeague as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Today, Martin is throwing people out of the Liberal Party, but not, of course, those who came to the Party's rescue when it mattered.
Paul Martin has an affinity for those who step up, as they say on The Apprentice. And the best project managers come during Step Three of the cover-up.
* Step Three *
Get to the b-b-b-bottom of the scandal, Liberal-style.
When Sheila Fraser first uncovered the lid of the sponsorship scandal in her 2002 report, the Liberals knew exactly what to do. Step right up and take the investigation away from her and anybody who wanted to follow her.
Her allegations were so serious, they said, they had to be examined in more detail by a committee of Parliament. Look, public and members of the Press, we're innocent. We want to know what happened. We'll find out and let you know in a jiffy.
Sheila Fraser's report was handed to the Standing Committee on Public Account. The committee's chairman was from the Conservative Party but nine of the 16 members were Liberals and they chewed Fraser's report like a dog with a toy bone. Grrrr. Look at us. We're getting to the b-b-bottom of it.
They played games, like failing to turn up with enough members for a quorum when it was convenient for the party. They forced hearings to be in-camera so the press wouldn't get too much to get worked up over. They quibbled over which witnesses could be called and how much of their testimony to make public.
A funny thing happened as soon as the Press let go of the bone. The Liberals lost interest. They voted to wrap up their hearings despite the Opposition's cries of anger. Step Three. Done.
The cover-up worked for a couple of years. When the scandal flared up again after Sheila Fraser's 2004 report, the machine knew the routine.
Step One. Get Jean Chretien out of town. Hey, look, he's no longer in politics, so let this thing drop, eh.
Step Two. Fraser's out of control. She likes the spotlight. You can't trust a gloryhound, can you?
Step Three. Oh, look, another committee conducting another investigation of her allegations. Another committee which shuts down just before an election.
But don't worry, we're still getting to the b-b-bottom of it.
And it that's not enough, look, here's Manitoba MP Reg Alcock on CTV, and he says its no biggie anyway. The sponsorship scandal is nowhere as bad as Sheila Fraser is making out. An "independent accounting firm" has discovered only $13 million is at issue, not the hundred million Fraser said.
Chipping away at the Auditor General's credibility on national television is a good days work. The retraction the next day won't get much coverage. Did I say $13 million? An independent study said what? Gee, I must have been mistaken. That small figure came from my friend and colleague Toronto MP Dennis Mills, and, heh, heh, you know, we really want to get to the b-b-bottom of it.
Alcock knows you've got to be a project manager if you want to impress Donald Trum....we mean the Prime Minister. So he's grabbed the best project. What better way to show you're sincere in fighting a scandal, than to encourage other people to report government scandals.
Ta daa. We're talking Whistleblower protection.
And Reg Alcock has been talking whistleblower protection for years now, every time, it seems, someone begins asking embarassing questions about Adscam. It's a perenniel kneeslapper. Sort of like having John Gotti write the rules for the witness protection program. "Sure, Louie, the only peoples gonna know where youse lives is the mob, er, the Party. You can trust us to look after youse and your loved ones."
The government first introduced legislation to protect whistleblowers on March 31, 2004, in the wake of Fraser's second Adscam report. But it died when Paul Martin called the June election. In October 2004, Alcock introduced a new "whistleblower" bill that was supposedly tougher than the legislation that died. Now that the Gomery report is out, expect a new bill anyday now and we bet its going to be really, really tough.
In the meantime, The Party toughed it out. The Rules worked like a charm. And the cover up held. Long enough, at least, for the the old guard to leave and a "fresh" face put on the leadership.
Except that Paul Martin wasn't so fresh, and wasn't so stupid.
He read the papers. He knew what was going on. How couldn't he.
In February 2002, when he was finance minister and the senior minister for Quebec, he got a letter from the national policy chairman, Akaash Maharaj, begging him to look into widespread rumours that taxpayers' dollars were being diverted from the sponsorship program for "partisan purposes."
"I don't really remember this letter," he said two years later when the letter was published in the National Post.
Martin to this day pretends he did nothing about the warning letter because it just seemed to echo what was in Sheila Fraser's 2002 report. But he's a smart man. He knew exactly was "partisan" meant. And why Fraser was so gingerly avoiding that allegation. And why he wan't going there. (See Step Two for a refresher).
Martin knew that deniability is paramount in a cover-up. I don't know nuttin. I dinn see nuttin'. I don't remember nuttin'. I want a lawyer. And my lawyer says don't say nuttin.
And it worked. Gomery "exonerated" Paul Martin. What warning letter was that?
Ain't Canada grand? We wouldn't let a Watergate scandal happen here. We hold our governments accountable.
Except sometimes we can't tell our governments apart.
And Gomery never even touched the question, of why the Liberanos were funneling hundreds of millions into their friends pockets, but had only gotten a fraction in kickbacks. The answer is obvious. There's a much bigger story still to be told.
** new readers may want to review
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