Impossible Martin didn't know of scam:
Claiming ignorance suggests either he is dumb or he believes Canadians
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
"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
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
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
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
What are you doing, today, to recover our money?
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post
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