Martin can't recall having
[PoliticsWatch Updated 1:00 p.m. April 13, 2005]
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Paul Martin said Thursday he cannot recall if he had lunch with Claude Boulay, the head of Groupe Everest who is a key figure in the sponsorship scandal.
"I can't remember ever having lunch with him in government." Martin told reporters after Thursday's cabinet meeting.
Whether or not the PM had lunch with Boulay had been an issue in the House of Commons this week after testimony linked Martin to the ad man at the Gomery inquiry on Monday.
Alain Renaud, a lobbyist for Groupaction, told the inquiry he first learned that Groupe Everest was the ad agency assigned to Attractions Canada after he overheard a conversation between Martin and Boulay at Liberal party convention.
Renaud testified two men and Boulay's wife, Diane Deslauriers, who was a Liberal fundraiser, were sitting at a table adjacent to him.
"They were talking about Attractions Canada," Renaud testified.
"They were talking a lot about it. It was difficult not to listen. I was beside a table, at the Convention, eating a sandwich, and it looked very friendly."
Attractions Canada, a tourism promotion program, cost the government $28 million between 1994 and 2003.
Group Everest was the agency that handled more than $11 million in sponsorships for Attractions Canada and gained a mention in the auditor general's report on the sponsorship program for its work with program. Under a $3 million deal for Attractions Canada, Groupe Everest subcontracted work at $274,735 to one company and $150,000 to another without producing evidence it had solicited bids.
Martin broke his silence on Thursday after refusing to answer two days of questions from the Conservative party in the House.
The opposition had charged that Renaud's testimony appeared to contradict Martin's previous testimony at the inquiry in which he denied having any significant meetings with Boulay.
"Directing contracts, intervening in contracts that's just simply not my style of politics," Martin told reporters.
"My philosophy has always been that contracts should be subject to open bidding."
Martin again suggested that a 1994 finance department memo regarding a contract Everest had for the retail debt strategy was an attempt at opening up competition.
Groupe Everest had been among the companies recommended for the retail debt strategy by then Martin aide Terrie O'Leary in the May 1994 memo. O'Leary's memo states that the recommendation were "suggestions from myself and the minister."
"When I was the minister of finance, there was a contract that Mr. Boulay's company was already occupying," Martin said Thursday.
"In fact, the department asked for open bidding on that contract and I supported the contract, I supported opening the bids."
The memo did recommend the Ontario portion of the campaign should be opened up and added a list of firms to the bidding list.
O'Leary's memo also suggested the request for proposal to be "modified slightly" and offered suggestions on new rankings for the criteria.
However, the memo shows O'Leary wanted firms added only to collaborate with Groupe Everest and that those firms should be "market researchers rather than another ad agency."
She also recommended eliminating other firms from bidding that were recommended for the Canada Savings Bond Market Research Program because in her opinion they were "small and relatively modest firms in their abilities."
"With regard to the recommended List of Bidders for the CSB Market Research Program I would drop at least 2 or more of the firms (which are small and relatively modest firms in their ability) and add the firms listed below the list: Ekos Research Associates; Insight Canada Research; Goldfarb Research; Environics/DRZ Research Group."
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