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since June 19, 2001


Impossible Martin didn't know of scam

Claiming ignorance suggests either he is dumb or he believes Canadians are


Impossible Martin didn't know of scam: Claiming ignorance suggests either he is dumb or he believes Canadians are

Friday 13 February 2004, p. A16

If Paul Martin were the piano player in a New Orleans brothel when police raided the joint, he'd claim to be entirely unaware people were having sex there, much less paying for it.

"You mean this isn't a social club where older men and younger women discuss music, poetry and current events? Gee, I wondered why the young ladies were always wearing their (blush) unmentionables."

That is what Martin would have Canadians believe about his involvement in the Quebec sponsorship scandal: He had absolutely no knowledge that anything untoward was going on inside the Liberal cabinet, even though for nine years he was its most senior member, after Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

His explanation for failing to blow the whistle on the massive, putrid corruption within the Liberal party in Quebec was not to deny personal involvement, but rather to deny any knowledge of anyone's involvement.

Admitting he knew, but denying he was directly involved, would at least have been plausible -- hard to believe, but plausible. Denying all knowledge, though, is quite frankly impossible.

Martin should have said, "I confess I knew some of this was going on, but even I am shocked at the scale and audacity of it all. I and my supporters stayed as far away from this as possible. That may not be as satisfying to Canadians as having blown the whistle before the sponsorship scheme rang up a $250-million price tag. But rest assured, I in no way took part and I vow to make up for my earlier failure to sound the alarm by getting to the bottom of this now and punishing those involved, no matter who they are. Your tax dollars will be repaid and those politicians and organizers most involved will be jailed."

Not only was Martin finance minister while the $100 million in "commissions" and other assorted payoffs were being made -- in other words, he was the man who signed the cheques -- he was also the senior minister for Quebec. He was an MP for a Montreal riding, too, where some of these funds were undoubtedly "slushed."

On top of that, he met regularly with the other Quebec ministers, including alleged culprit-in-chief, Alfonso Gagliano, to plan strategy and discuss the Liberal party's political fortunes in Quebec. Even if all the bad boys and girls at these meetings suddenly clammed up and stopped whispering every time Boy Scout Paul entered the room, he would have to had suspect something was amiss.

And as we know from his leadership campaign, Prime Minister Paul Martin had supporters and operatives in every riding in the country, including in Quebec, who were constantly feeding him intelligence on who within the party was doing what to and with whom.

Either Martin thinks Canadians are so dumb we will buy his Sgt. Schultz act -- "I see nothing. I know nothing, Col. Hogan" -- despite his long-term, high-level involvement, or he is himself so dumb he really didn't see a thing.

When boiled down to campaign slogans, neither explanation yields a pretty alternative: "Paul's not stupid, but he's pretty sure you are!" or "Vote Martin: Too dense to be dishonest!"

I don't think Martin is dense or especially dishonest. (At least, I don't suspect he was very dishonest while the scandal was going on. He is clearly being dishonest now, though.) I doubt he was personally involved in the siphoning, funnelling and money laundering.

Rather, he knew it was occurring and simply kept his mouth shut because lots of Quebec Liberals who were helping him get elected as Liberal leader were involved in the scandal, big time. I suspect this is why Martin is not doing the honest and honourable thing by vowing to prosecute whomever was involved -- to do so would mean having to prosecute too many of his good friends.

I also suspect this is why the PM has begun peddling the bizarre, even kooky, explanation that the scandal was a "very sophisticated cover-up" perpetrated by a super-secret cabal of law-breaking bureaucrats. That sounds like the adult equivalent of "alien robots stole my homework" or the plot for a bad "B" movie.

If 12 to 14 bureaucrats are behind this, Mr. Prime Minister, as you claimed Wednesday, why have you not sacked them? The auditor-general says most are still working for your government -- not Chretien's government, yours.

And answer this: Of the $250 million stolen from Canadians to fund this fiasco, $100 million was paid to middlemen for such services as transferring government funds to recipient organizations. Why? Did the government suddenly forget how to deliver cheques itself? Politicians usually seem pretty good at cheque delivery.

Moreover, the recipient groups -- arts, cultural and community organizations, sports teams, sporting events and festivals -- are never timid about approaching governments for money. Indeed, such groups never seem to stop asking for government cash. Surely you cannot expect Canadians to buy the story that middlemen were paid 40 per cent of the total cost just to ferret out groups that needed grants.

What are you doing, today, to recover our money?

Lorne Gunter
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post

Index to some of Lorne Gunter's articles

On global Warming

On other issues

More about the fiscal "irregularities" uncovered by Sheila Fraser, Auditor General of Canada

whiterose.gif (6796 bytes)The White Rose
Thoughts are Free

Posted 2002 10 28

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