Monday, February 11, 2008

Mulroney's "lobbying": Denials he both did and didn't

Brian Mulroney has a lot of explaining to do. In testimony to the House of Common Ethics Committee back in December, Mulroney admitted taking payments of $225,000 from Karlheinz Schreiber for consulting work for arms and steel manufacturer Thyssen (now ThyssenKrupp). Claimed Mulroney, the payments were in exchange for lobbying work to governments in France, China, and Russia; as well as the United Nationas.

Seems the CBC and the Globe and Mail decided to check out his claims. So far, they report, they can't prove either that he's telling the truth or that he's lying. The most bizarre point, though, is that no one at Thyssen has any records of Mulroney ever doing any work for them.

It's bad enough Mulroney would want to lobby for the very firm whose name -- Krupp -- still sends shivers up the spines of veterans and war historians. Yes, Germany like most of the rest of the EU is presently an ally of Canada and it's a good thing that they are; but it wasn't that way 60 years ago and memories die hard. But it gets worse.

As far as the claim about China goes, Canada's ambassador to Beijing does state that, yes, Mulroney went on a trade mission to China in 1993; yes, he did lobby the government for arms deals; but no, Mulroney never stated he was specifically acting on behalf of Thyssen. However, if Mulroney did so, he would have violated the very same trade sanctions he imposed on Beijing after Tiananmen and which were in place at the time.

Russia: Jane's Defence Weekly scoffs at the notion Russia would want to purchase materiel from Canada when its own defence plants were in dire straits at the time. France: Why would it favour German industries over its own (even though EU rules require equal treatment)?

So here are my questions:
  1. Are these countries telling the truth when they say they had no contact with Mulroney?
  2. Is ThyssenKrupp telling the truth when they say they never heard of Mulroney?
  3. If the money wasn't to lobby for Thyssen, then what was it for?

It's worth remembering Mulroney did this lobbying, or alleged lobbying, after he stepped down as PM but was still the MP for Québec's Charlevoix district (which includes his hometown of Baie Comeau). He was no longer a member of the Cabinet, but some ethics rules still bound him as to what he could and could not do. Schreiber claims the first payment was made while Mulroney was still Prime Minister which would have been, at the very minimum, a conflict of interest.

Beyond that, it goes to the issue of character. I will not deny that he did a lot of good for Canada. He streamlined the collective bargaining process for the federal bureaucracy; made the family allowance means tested (a necessary step on the long term goal to eliminate child poverty); made a sincere effort to reform pension. On the world scene he spoke out for freedom in Eastern Europe and in South Africa; and was seen as an honest broker between Washington and Moscow, particularly during the first Gulf War.

But when one minister after another got caught in scandal in both his administrations, he was seen as incompetent in his choices. Of course, one naturally had to ask if he himself was on the take. He never delivered on the massive retraining program he promised during the free trade election. And forget Meech Lake. He waited until the last possible moment to rescue it rather than fight for it from the very beginning.

I can't help but wonder if he tried to contain the damage of the early scandals he might have been a truly great Prime Minister. Instead, he's remembered as someone who occupied the office. Someone with incredibly bad taste in the choice of friends.

One last point: I'm not against arms dealers. Someone has to do it, no matter how shady the business can be at times. Even Dodi Fayed, allegedly, was one; as is Mark Thatcher (son of Margaret). But why would Mulroney lobby for a German company, even one with a Canadian branch plant? Shouldn't be have been lobbying for Canadian arms manufacturers instead? Where's the patriotism working for a guy who'd rather sing Das Lied der Deutschen than O Canada? Yes, I know, Schreiber is a Canadian citizen, but he himself should have been working on behalf of Canadian companies rather than German ones, too.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

No comments: