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Kinsella tells committee Martin called him about Earnscliffe 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 8:30 p.m. April 18, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Warren Kinsella, a long-time supporter of former prime minister Jean Chretien, told a Commons committee on Monday that Prime Minister Paul Martin called him at his home once to complain about a contract involving the firm Earnscliffe.  
  

Kinsella said the call took place in the mid 1990s when he was an aide to the then public works minister David Dingwall, whose ministry oversaw procurement of government contracts.

"He phoned me at my home to express to me his annoyance of what was taking place," Kinsella said. "It was the Earnscliffe contract."

Kinsella made the comments while two former Martin loyalists - former aide Terrie O'Leary and campaign chair David Herle - sat to his right. 

All three witnesses were subpoenaed before the committee.

The public accounts committee was holding a one-day hearing to probe public opinion and research contracts that were given to the firm Earnscliffe, which Herle was an employee of at the time and later became a partner. 

Earnscliffe is also the home of several other Martin supporters and campaign volunteers. 

Kinsella dropped accusation after accusation on O'Leary and Herle on Monday, suggesting it was his opinion that finance officials were creating a favourable environment for contracts to end up in the lap of Earnscliffe. 

He told the committee that it wasn't just him who complained about the involvement of finance, but other Liberal friendly polling and communication firms and public servants. 

He also alleged that he thought many of the contracts to Earnscliffe were in fact "cross-subsidized political activity using the public treasury," an allegation Herle later denied.

He also quoted a letter he said he sent to O'Leary during the mid '90s in which he warned that complaints from other bidders about contracts awarded to Earnscliffe could become explosive for the government. 

"The competition was flawed, the payment is excessive, the work is probably not needed, and the research community can be fully expected to blow the whistle on the political connections here," said Kinsella in his letter. 

O'Leary meanwhile denied that she had any role in contracting, even though documents Kinsella gave to the committee suggested O'Leary was making suggestions about firms to be added and removed from at least one competition. 

She later said she had discussions about contracts but was not involved in the decisions of any contract being awarded. 

Herle put up a strong defence of his position before the committee, at times attracting the attention of committee chair John Williams who he interrupted at one point. 

He denied any of the work given to Earnscliffe was done to aid Martin in his long leadership campaign or for work for the Liberal party. 

"This is not a question of money going to the Liberals," he said. 

He also took out a briefcase full of reports Earnscliffe wrote for various federal government departments as evidence that work was done. 

Herle also told the committee to remember that Kinsella is "as strong a political adversary of Mr. Martin, Ms. O'Leary or myself as anyone in this country."

However, some of Kinsella's accusations were backed by a public works whistleblower, Allan Cutler, who was also sitting at the committee table. 

Cutler testified about a $15,000 a month retainer Earnscliffe won to provide communications advice to the finance department in 1995. 

The public servant, who last year left documents with the committee outlining a battle he had with finance officials over the request for proposal that Earnscliffe won, told the committee Monday that the process, in his opinion, favoured Earnscliffe.

"This was more of an abuse of the process getting the result that you'd expect you'd get," he said. 

Earnscliffe was the only firm to bid on the work with finance and was awarded a $246,000 contract. 

Kinsella also told the committee about a similar bidding process in which those who were bidding had to have 10 years experience in the media and legal background, both of which matched the qualifications of Herle and another Earnscliffe employee Elly Alboim.

The committee is considering calling Kinsella, Herle and O'Leary back for further questioning. 

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