February 18, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 77  

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NEWS

Liberal sponsorship scandal a ‘low point’

By Mark Weir
Gazette Writer

The federal Liberal sponsorship scandal has started a potential political landslide, troubling Liberals across the country. It is the thorn in Prime Minister Paul Martin’s side that will not disappear any time soon.

The issue of contention surrounds the federal government’s spending of $250 million dollars of public funds following the Quebec referendum in 1995. Auditor general Sheila Fraser’s recent report outlines that $100 million of the funds went missing to Liberal friendly ad agencies in Quebec.

“What separates this case of government misspending from others is the fact that the auditor general sees elements of a conspiracy,” said Jeffery Gandz, a business professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business.

“There has been a clear breach of all sorts of rules,” he said. Part of the difficulty of dealing with such scandals is the creation, policing and enforcement of penalties, he explained, adding a public inquiry was set up and may involve some prominent former cabinet ministers, possibly even former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

“Having received this huge scandal, [Martin] has to do something about it,” noted Huron University College political science professor Paul Nesbitt-Larking, adding Martin is now attempting to perform damage control by distancing himself from the scandal.

Martin has gone as far as putting his job on the line if a public investigation finds that he had prior knowledge of the misspending, as he was finance minister at the time under the Chrétien government.

“[Saying that he will quit if found at fault] is part of a plausible denial strategy that has been tried by many politicians in the past,” Nesbitt-Larking said.

The timing of the report itself has also raised some questions. According to political science professor Robert Young, the report was ready in November, but Chrétien was successful in delaying its release until he was out of office. “I am surprised that Paul Martin was not more prepared for this,” he said.

In order to restore public faith, Martin has fired several public servants, as well as the former minister of public works, Alfonso Gagliano, who was currently serving as Canada’s ambassador to Denmark, and is now on his way back to Canada to answer questions concerning the spending.

The opposition parties have constantly been questioning the government since the story broke last week. Martin has gone on record as saying that Canadians need to know the status of the investigation before voters go to the polls. Whether that means he will delay a spring election remains to be determined.

Gandz explained that while the allegations are very serious they still have to be proven. However he said that “this is clearly a low point for the Liberal government.”

 

 

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