The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chomiak falls to pieces under election rebate scheme questioning

The disintegration of Dave Chomiak is not pretty to watch.

Chomiak is at the forefront of the NDP's cover-up of its orchestrated scheme to falsify 1999 election expense claims to get rebates from the public purse. He's under a lot of pressure to keep the lid on, especially since he's a prime suspect in the fraud. No wonder he's coming apart at the seams.

Every day it's the same thing in Question Period as the Opposition asks questions about the scandal.

As soon as Premier Gary Doer lets him off the leash, Chomiak leaps to his feet, wildly waving sheafs of paper in his fists. His entire body quivers as he bellows at the Opposition for chasing "con-spy-raw-cies", spittle flying from his lips. The only break in routine are the days he's heavily tranquilized and responding in a monotone (we're not exaggerating, you've got to watch QP).

But Crazy Dave is the norm. And somewhere in the midst of his non-sequiters ("I don't beat my dog.") you can count on his suddenly blurting out the words "never seen as many liars", Tourette's-like and out of any context. It's gone from amusing, to troubling. We're watching a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Where once he referenced the Monnin Inquiry before his "liars" comment, now he just interjects the words into the middle of whatever sentence he's speaking. Or just babbles it out of the blue in relation to nothing. The NDP members behind him visibly cringe in silence at his performance.

There's a term in psychology for what we're seeing -- projection.

Wikipedia, the poor man's dictionary, describes "psychological projection" as a defence mechanism "where a person's ... unacceptable or unwanted thoughts and/or emotions are repressed, and then attributed to someone else."

In this case he's reduced to calling other people liars because he and his colleagues are being forced to spin a web of lies, day in and day out.

* Finance Minister Greg Selinger has known about the rebates-for-false-expenses scheme since 2003. He knew it was so wrong that when he learned about it, he demanded--and got--a letter from the Party exonerating him from any involvement. He then kept silent for six years. He only came forward last week after an NDP election agent blew the whistle on him.

Even then he insisted the NDP stopped the practice only because they banned union and corporate donations.

He's lying.

They stopped because they got caught red handed.

And as the defender of the public purse, he doesn't want to explain why he's not demanding the NDP return an estimated quarter of a million dollars they fraudulently received for elections from the mid-80's to 1999.

* Premier Gary Doer has said it was an "accounting error." It wasn't.

There was no error.

The NDP deliberately falsified election expenses by claiming union footsoldiers as paid help instead of unpaid volunteers.

The inner circle, which included Dave Chomiak, co-chairman of the 1999 election, even kept the official agents in the dark about what they were doing.

The scheme was carefully designed to take advantage of a legal loophole; agents couldn't be charged because although they signed the final papers, they didn't make the alterations, and allegedly didn't even know about them, and those who did falsify the returns didn't sign them and couldn't legally be held responsible for them.

Doer made this false statement in the Legislature:

Hon. Gary Doer (Premier): Mr. Speaker, one would note that the, the Minister of Finance obviously was involved and commented yesterday on this issue. When the filing was made with Elections Manitoba, it was first-firstly accepted. It was then brought to our attention that there was concerns that they had in terms of the filing, and we worked with them in a co-operative way. We worked with them in a co-operative way to amend the statements and the money was paid back.

That's like a tax evader telling the judge he did nothing wrong because for years the tax department accepted his deductions for 13 non-existent children. If they accepted the non-existent children for that long, how can it be tax evasion now just because they've discovered there are no children?

That's NDP logic.

* The NDP filed false election expenses for years to fraudulently get government rebates. Only after Elections Manitoba was given the power in 2000 to call in forensic auditors, and they began examining the 1999 filings, was the NDP scheme unearthed.

That doesn't retroactively make the previous filings true.

* The NDP must return the money it got through their fraud, with interest.

The day Selinger came out to speak to reporters to "clarify" his role in the NDP rebate fraud, he wasn't alone. We thank Tom Brodbeck for reporting on his blog that, strangely, Selinger was led to the reporters by none other than Dave Chomiak instead one of the NDP's PR flaks.

Not so strange.

Selinger delivered what's been known ever since the Watergate scandal as a limited modified hangout.

That's where one of the conspirators goes public with just enough information to take the heat off the scandal.

But what we learned later was that Chomiak couldn't resist speaking to the reporters himself. Amidst his ramblings he made these statements:

"So that’s by the way one of the reason I felt that it was necessary to answer all the questions, because I in fact had been at the two-hour hearing when the chief electoral officer of the Province of Manitoba (Richard Balasko) answered all of the questions that we have heard the last few days. It would appear it seems to be a figment of speculation in the minds of the leader of the opposition..."

What he failed to say was that the NDP majority on the Legislative Committee at which the chief electoral officer was a witness cut short the hearing after two-hours when everyone initially expected it to go another hour or two. (This was reported by FP reporter Mary Agnes Welch on her blog.)

* And as for Balasko answering "all of the questions", well ...

We've corraled a collection of his responses to Opposition questions:

Mr. Balasko: As you are well aware, investigations are to be conducted in private, and it's not my choice or my will to comment or not comment on the conduct of investigations and the contributions of people involved in an investigation.


Mr. Balasko: I appreciate your question, but I have to reiterate what I have said, which is that we're bound by the law, just as anyone else involved in an investigation would be bound by the law, and the law requires that investigations at that time to be conducted in private.


Mr. Balasko: Yes, with regard to the letter sent to Thompson Dorfman and Mr. Graham, matters related to the investigation are not matters that are public to be discussed. They're required by law to be kept private.

Mr. Balasko: Once again, thanks for the question, because I can put some context to it. I would not, myself, accept the word "negotiation;" that would be Mr. Asselstine's characterization of it. But I cannot comment on matters that were the subject of an investigation.

Mr. Goertzen: You indicated that you didn't accept the word "negotiations." What characterization would you replace that with?
Mr. Balasko: I would not


Mr. Balasko: As I mentioned before, the materials, certainly the second letter that you provided relates in investigation. I can't comment on the investigation, and that's a requirement that I'm expected to fulfil.


Mr. Balasko: Mr. Goertzen, I find myself in the same situation that there's reference to matters in the context of an investigation upon which I cannot comment, and I'm being invited to comment, and you've been, I appreciate, very respectful of where the line is, and so, once again, that's where the line is.


Mr. Balasko: I'm not in a position to respond to the comments that you're referring to.


Mr. Balasko: Thanks for the question, Mr. Goertzen. I won't respond to Mr. Asselstine's comments in the letter.


Mr. Balasko: As I've just replied a moment ago, once you get into an investigation, we're not in a position to comment publicly.

Nothing like a full and transparent explanation for why the NDP got special treatment, is there?

* The committee hearing did, however, provide at least one of the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Gary Doer has said he first learned of the false expenses scheme in 2001. He's ducked every question about when and how he learned the details. We believe the transcript of the Legislative Committee hearing provides a clue:

Mr. Goertzen: Thank you, Mr. Balasko. Second page further up, on that the third, in the paragraph, it discusses a conversation that was had between the provincial secretary of the NDP and Mr. Gordon from your office, at which time Mr. Gordon had apparently, in a memo dated October 2, 2001, had written that the provincial secretary for the NDP had said something to the effect that had Mr. Asselstine known of the details of an individual's family crisis when they were doing the interview, and that individual is somebody involved with the NDP, that they would take every step possible to ensure that Mr. Asselstine would never get another cent of the government's money for work.

In short, by Oct. 2, 2001, Elections Manitoba had been informed that the ruling NDP intended to make sure that the auditor who uncovered the false expenses fraud would " never get another cent of the government's money for work."

It was a clear and open threat.

The threat was made by Tom Milne, the NDP's provincial secretary.

Is there any doubt that by that point Gary Doer had been fully informed of the trouble the NDP expected with Elections Manitoba?

Or, more to the point, that he had approved in advance the threat to punish auditor David Asselstine?

At least when Richard Nixon tried to stop the Watergate investigation, he was man enough to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox himself.

Doer used union heavy Tom Milne to muscle Elections Manitoba into doing the dirty work. And Asselstine was gone before the 2003 election.

* And finally, we return to Dave Chomiak's favourite phrase "as many liars."

"In all my years on the Bench I never encountered as many liars in one proceeding as I did during this inquiry," said Justice Alfred Monnin after hearing evidence into a vote-splitting scandal involving members of the Progressive Conservative Party.

What Chomiak fails, as usual, to tell, is that one of those "liars" was someone he worked with on a daily basis.

The only sitting member of the Manitoba Legislature to be publicly criticized in the Monnin Report was....

NDP MLA (since resigned) Tim Sale.

Sale, the inquiry revealed, had conducted his own, private investigation during which he often spoke with witnesses before the Inquiry investigators got to them, surely not to help them get their stories straight before speaking on record.

In the most egregious incident, he spoke with a man named Jerry Sorokowski in a Salisbury House on Pembina Highway. But if he expected anything juicy, Sale was disappointed, since Sorokowski told him nothing to implicate the Conservatives.

A book about the scandal, "As Many Liars" by Doug Smith, describes what happened next.

"When Sorokowski spoke with the commission investigators a few days later he said that Sale had tried to dissuade him from meeting with them."

Noooo, said Sale. Sorokowski had misinterpreted a casual comment that, legally, he was not obliged to speak with the investigators. A simple miscommunication, eh.

That's not how Justice Monnin took it. As they say in legal circles, he tore him a new one.

"I would have expected Mr. Sale, a member of the Legislature, to urge in the strongest terms possible cooperation with the Commission's investigators. His advice is directly contrary to what he was expounding in the Legislature---a full inquiry in order to get to the bottom of the matter." Monnin wrote in his report.

Added Doug Smith,

"Monnin was offended by the effrontery of Sale's decision to investigate the affair after Monnin had commenced his work. Sale's persistence suggests a lack of faith in the inquiry and Elections Manitoba---for this lack of respect for duly constituted authority Sale came in for a severe tongue-lashing...."

How poetic. It reminds one of the epic poem Marmion by Sir Walter Scott with the famous lines: "O what tangled webs we weave When first we practice to deceive."

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