Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Harper calls inquiry

After nearly two weeks, Harper has finally caved into enormous pressure -- some from his most loyal supporters -- and has agreed to a public inquiry in the Mulroney-Schreiber matter. As well, the Mounties are also relaunching an investigation many had thought had been settled ages ago.

Way back when CBC Newsworld aired Air Farce and 22 Minutes (before the regulators here said they couldn't -- Newsworld was a news channel, not a comedy one said the CRTC -- BS!) I watched one Sunday night and seeing the Farceurs doing another routine about Airbus when the "crawl" broke in with a special bulletin; that Chrétien had reached an out-of-court settlement with Mulroney, the night before the civil trial was set to begin. It took me thirty seconds to realize it wasn't a joke.

Frankly, Canada missed out on a great trial if for no other reason than Mulroney cleverly chose a Québec court as the venue. It was no accident. Under common law in the English provinces (and to a lesser extent Québec in terms of criminal matters) one must prove allegations against someone are not true, on a preponderance of the evidence. Under Québec's Civil Code, however, one only has to prove damage to one's reputation regardless of whether charges are true or not. The distinction is important; and it's relevant as the public inquiry process goes forward.

Like Clark, Turner, Campbell, Chrétien and Martin (as well as the late Trudeau), Mulroney was an unregistered lobbyist. Perhaps the fact one used to be in government exempts former ministers of the Crown (it should not), but the fact is ex-PMs do wield influence behind the scenes. The incumbent in the office would be foolish not to rely on the advise of his or her predecessors -- for their candor as well as their experience.

The problem becomes greater, though, when claims like Schreiber are making are made. It doesn't matter whether they are true or not; people will believe them period and because the targets of the claims are politicians, people in general think the worse of them. In terms of heads of government, the stakes are even higher. It was Rick Mercer, after all, who wryly said when the Airbus scandal broke that "89% of Canadians believed Mulroney took kickbacks, the other 11% believe he turned them down."

I'd take advise from anyone, of course, but I'd be extra careful if there was the hint of scandal; I'd limit my inquiry of those who came before me to specifics, not a back slapping howya doing. I certainly wouldn't take advise from a known liar but the standards for those who spin the truth are even higher; bizarre as that may sound.

What I find even more bewildering is that Mulroney and Harper who once despised each other's mere existence on this planet (let alone Turtle Island) get along so well. Harper says he is temporarily breaking off ties with Mulroney until this is settled and is well advised to do so, but the question is what advice did Harper get in the first place and did that taint his judgement on policy matters? In particular, what Harper was saying two weeks ago to an inquiry (no) and what he said today (yes)?

This certainly comes nowhere near eclipsing Sponsorgate. But Air Canada was owned by the government until well into the 1990s as were many other Crown Corporations; and if this goes beyond Airbus the shakedown will be fierce.

I truly hope Mulroney is vindicated. We need our elder statespersons more than ever. But like many of these matters, the truth may very well come out between what Mulroney is saying and what is said by Schreiber. And any public inquiry report can be appealed so this may drag on for quite some time yet.

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Anonymous said...

I don't understand the 2 week reference . . . I thought this all came to light last week? (I could be missing something; I just couldn't quite figure out your reference to "after 2 weeks")

BlastFurnace said...

Schreiber made the allegations on October 30th, two weeks ago. When the opposition almost immediately demanded an inquiry, Harper said no. Something changed during those two weeks, and I think we have the right to know.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I just hadn't realized the initial calls came on Oct 30, that's all.

I agree!