Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Pandora's Box

When the Auditor-General's report was publicly tabled, I acted immediately by ordering a fully independent commission of inquiry, under Mr. Justice John Gomery.
-Paul Martin

Any regrets Paul?

Given the eagerness of the media to lead with "Guité details intervention by Martin", it's safe to say Paul Martin is having some regrets over the one time he's acted decisively during his time as Prime Minister. Because it's become abundantly clear that the sponsorship inquiry has turned into an out of control plague of locusts devouring everything in their path. Let's look at what Chuck Guite said:

Of particular concern, Guite noted, was a $65.7-million Tourism Canada
contract, the largest of all ad deals issued by the government.

Guite said he asked Gagliano for "assurance that the volume of business
that V and B had from the government would be maintained.''

"He (Gagliano) said, `I will look after that.' So ... if he spoke to
Mr. Manley, I think he was at Tourism then ... And I think Mr. Martin was at the
Bank (of Canada) at that time.''

Guite said Vickers also handled a lucrative Canada Savings Bonds
contract for the Bank of Canada, an agency then under Martin's control as
finance minister.

Manley's industry portfolio encompassed tourism-related matters.

Guite said Tremblay called back a week later and told him "it will be

Inquiry counsel Bernard Roy then asked Guite what would be done.

"The interfe- I don't want to use that word,'' Guite replied. "The
minister (Gagliano) had spoken to both ministers and the volume of business
would be maintained.''

So...the "smoking gun" is based on something Pierre Tremblay told Chuck Guite that Alfonso Gagliano told him. Now, third hand stories are sketchy at the best of times but considering that the central figure is dead and that Mr. Guite's credibility is barely on life support, it's very difficult to put a lot of stock in this claim. Plus, it contradicts Guite's claims that there was no political direction last year and marks the third different story he has told about the scandal. Further straining Guite's credibility is this well reasoned explanation from John Manley:

But Manley said he never spoke to Gagliano about assurances for any
contracts, including the Vickers and Benson one.

"Clearly Mr. Guite is speculating and I want to state categorically
that I did not have this conversation with Mr. Gagliano,'' Manley said in a
statement released to The Canadian Press.

"Moreover, it is important to note that I was in the process of
creating the Canadian Tourism Commission at the time which would have complete
autonomy in decisions relating to advertising.

"In other words, it would have been impossible to make the commitment
Mr. Gagliano is said to have been seeking.''

Basically, Chuck Guite has gone on unsubstantiated hearsay to smear the reputations of two very prominent politicians. Now, to be clear, some of what Chuck Guite said in other fields is likely true and it's quite damning. But this just illustrates what the inquiry has turned into. Namely, a soap box for people under trial to air their grievances and get even. Benoit Corbeil who will no doubt add more explosive testimony, has pretty much come out and said the only reason he's talking is because Jean Brault inappropriately implicated him and no one in the Liberal Party came to his defense. So now, this week or next, he'll get even too and make extravagant, unverifiable claims. This entire thing has turned into one giant snowball.

That's the problem with an inquiry like this where you can say anything you want without fear of retribution. How much of what Jean Brault is saying is true? Who knows. Let's just splash it all across the front page and worry about the fact that he's on trial for fraud later. Ditto with Chuck Guite and his 17 different stories.

Maybe the Liberals do deserve to be voted out of office. Maybe Paul Martin was involved. Who knows? But it's becoming more and more difficult to believe the stuff coming out of this inquiry with each passing day.


  • Good call. That's the number 1 reason to wait for the conclusions.

    By Blogger wonderdog, at 7:15 p.m.  

  • Just an aside on inquiries and criminal trials: the two aren't the same thing (which is why they have different names). Their approaches to hearsay, findings of fact, and culpability are very very different.

    The reason for this inquiry is to probe political direction of suspect government conduct. Things like asking Guité to speculate about hearsay comprise the commission's raison d'être.

    I agree that conflicting accounts on Guité's part diminish his credibility, but he shouldn't be attacked for answering the questions asked of him.

    Nor should the commission be attacked for doing its job, investigating political conduct that while perhaps short of criminality may still merit denunciation.

    By Blogger matt, at 8:42 p.m.  

  • The commission is probably a worthwhile exercise. Media reaction to sensational testimony is a predictable outcome, after all they need to sell advertising. Conservative outrage is also predictable, they need to get elected.

    On the whole I think most voters are probably sensible enough to differentiate between hearsay of hearsay from an individual accuse of fraud and proven fact. It will hurt the Liberals but perhaps not as much as I had originally anticipated. I remain hopeful that we can avert a New Right conservative government.

    By Blogger Psychols, at 9:41 p.m.  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger matt, at 12:02 a.m.  

  • I agree re. the hearsay, but not in the way you might expect.

    Hearsay is a loaded term, often conflated with untruth. That isn't the case: it refers to things which cannot substantiate proof to a criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt (and, as any trial lawyer will tell you, hearsay is a dying doctrine, Law & Order notwithstanding. But I digress).

    If Guité's judgment and impressions of his Minister are credible (and they aren't), as with the impressions and information provided by other witnesses, then there ought to be political consequences.

    This is the point: the technicality of "hearsay" has no place at the commission, whereas the credibility of the source and reasonableness of the alleged conduct absolutely do. To cry hearsay is like invoking polkadots: both are irrelevant.

    And this is my frustration with Canadians and the media at the moment: we don't need to know the precise vagaries of illegal conduct, only its relative magnitude. We shouldn't have to want an election before one is called over that same issue, even if the same distribution of seats would likely result. If a law-abiding democracy is to be worthy of the name, serious political misconduct must provide an opportunity for political consequence.

    And, just to return to my previous point and illustrate the difference between a trial and an inquiry, in the latter Guité's pending charges impugn his credibility. In a criminal trial, they couldn't (or at least shouldn't) owing to a presumption of innocence.

    By Blogger matt, at 12:12 a.m.  

  • sorry to go off topic, but here in calgary they're shutting down the ward 10 voting scandal enquiry early without the best and most relevant testimony from the principals. the reason given is because there is a criminal investigation underway. but what if the police decide quietly to drop their investigation also, then say they can't reveal what they found.

    but back to gomery. jason kenney was in the sun the other day and kept referring to martin and the cabinet as criminals. i'm wondering what legal advice the sun gets that they can print that. i hope they don't make him justice minister.

    By Blogger robert mcbean, at 12:56 a.m.  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Psychols, at 1:00 a.m.  

  • The commission will admit Guite's hearsay with reduced relevance. On a more practical level, most of us probably realize that second hand information is less reliable. When it is hearsay coming from an unreliable source (such as Guite) it may give us an uneasy feeling but we tend to withhold our assessment until further information is available.

    I suspect the only folks who are impressed with Guite's testimony are those who are already convinced that all Liberals are culpable. Many of us will have to await the final report before we are ready to make a decision.

    By Blogger Psychols, at 1:03 a.m.  

  • cycles: I agree with all of your last post. despite conventional wisdom, as I verbosely tried to show above, there's no magic in the word hearsay. "second hand" is much more apt.

    but I continue to believe that most people ought not need to wait for a final report (though they continue to say that for pollsters, and will likely say it up until day 2 of the campaign), for lots of reasons. prominent ones are:
    - the commission's mandate is to provide advice to the government, not citizens.
    - it's a public inquiry with public evidence. the job of a voter is to assimilate facts, and this judge isn't crucial to that.
    - even if the previous two reasons are wrong, there's still no exoneration for the Liberals available; there has not been, and there will not be, any hail-mary pass. all that is at issue is how bad the misconduct was, whether it was huge or giant. that alone should force an election.

    By Blogger matt, at 2:33 a.m.  

  • I think there's something to be said about waiting for the interim report due out, I believe it is, November 1st. At least then Gomery will show a more complete picture of what happened and which stories are more believable.

    The final report is only going to have recomendations on fixing the situation so there's no real need to see that one.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:15 p.m.  

  • Justice Gomery has been directed to submit a statement of factual findings, interim or final, and a separate report of recommendations. If he delivers a statement of factual findings in the fall, as expected, there may, or may not be sufficient information. The commission will be cognizant of the political ramifications and we may find that it speaks to procedural systems and the lack of appropriate safeguards more than individual wrongdoing.

    I do not believe Gomery is under any constraints as to the content of his final report. If investigation or charges are warranted, he may direct the RCMP to act. He may also focus mainly on procedural recommendations.

    Either way, I do not believe we need to have an election 2 months earlier because we think the interim report will be sufficient. I think Martin's request to wait until the final report is reasonable.

    By Blogger Psychols, at 12:33 a.m.  

  • ok. without conceding the point, what about the distasteful notion of giving the government 10 months to campaign with the public purse?

    By Blogger matt, at 2:26 a.m.  

  • Mat,

    Your point is well taken. There is something unsavory about a 10 month election campaign. Given the dysfunctional nature of our minority parliament it appears that every party is guilty of using the mandate to campaign instead of govern. Perhaps this is the logical extension of a minority government because it seems similar to what happened during Joe Clark's brief tenure as PM.

    Of course it was much less drawn out then. PET knew he would probably win and moved fairly quickly to defeat Clark’s PC government. Too bad, I thought Joe Clark had the right idea, but it appears most of Canada felt otherwise.

    By Blogger Psychols, at 1:34 p.m.  

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