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Martin asked about lunch with ad man 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:45 p.m. April 12, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Paul Martin had to face questions once again about his relationship with the head of one of the ad firms involved in the sponsorship scandal after his name arose in testimony at the Gomery inquiry on Monday. 

Alain Renaud, whose primary role for Groupaction was to interact with the political players in the Liberal party and help send business to the ad firm, testified that he overheard a discussion between Martin and Claude Boulay of Groupe Everest about Attractions Canada at a Liberal party function.

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. 

Everest was mentioned in the auditor general's report on the sponsorship program for its work with Attractions Canada. 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. 

Renaud told the inquiry he first learned about Everest's involvement with Attractions Canada after overhearing a conversation between Martin, Boulay, and Boulay's wife Diane Deslaurier, a Liberal fundraiser. 

"I heard about it at the Convention of the Liberal Party, when Paul Martin and Claude Boulay were together and Mrs. Deslauriers, and they were talking about Attractions Canada. 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," he said. 

When commission counsel Bernard Roy asked Renaud if someone informed him about the PM's role in the awarding of a contract, a Liberal Party lawyer, who was recently granted standing at the committee, interjected. 

"I think we are doing character assassination through someone who, apparently, was at a function and seemed to 'have overheard a conversation,'" said party lawyer Douglas Mitchell. 

Justice John Gomery agreed and said he would not accept hearsay evidence.

"I want to try to eliminate things that do not have a real evidentiary weight," he said. "But I will not exclude this evidence."

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Conservative MP Jason Kenney pressed Martin to answer if Renaud's basic testimony was true. 

"Is this true? Did he indeed lunch with Claude Boulay to discuss contracts, yes or no?" he asked. 

"This is nonsense, as is the allegation," the PM said. 

"All the honourable member has to do is to go and see the Gomery testimony. And it is very clear, one thing comes out, that in fact the witnesses before the commission had testified unequivocally that I have never interfered in any contract, and I never did."

After question period, Kenney said his point wasn't whether Martin had interfered in the awarding of contracts, but that Renaud's testimony appears to paint a very different picture of Martin's testified relationship with Boulay. 

"Mr. Martin, in the House of Commons last year, denied having any meaningful knowledge of a relationship with Mr. Boulay. He said he was a passing acquaintance, that he may have worked on one of his leadership campaigns, but he didn't know him."

Kenney said the testimony that Martin was discussing Attractions Canada with Boulay "throws into serious doubt the veracity of the prime minister's testimony on his passing relationship with Mr. Boulay."

He said Renaud's testimony shows Martin was "holding back" when he testified at the Gomery commission. 

"The question is: Why wasn't the prime minister forthcoming about that when he was talking about the nature of the relationship?

"I rather doubt the prime minister has forgotten meeting one of the principal kingpins of Adscam. And here it just slips out of testimony yesterday and the prime minister wouldn't even answer a straight question about this." 

During his appearance before Gomery in February, the prime minister was asked about his ties to Boulay. 

Previous to that, much had been made about Boulay's role on Martin's 1990 leadership campaign. 

In his testimony, Martin revealed that his campaign organizers told him Boulay left the campaign because he had wanted to be paid for his work on the campaign. 

Documents tabled at the inquiry showed that over the years, Boulay, his wife and his company had donated a total of $450 to Martin campaign fundraisers. 

"I do not know Mr. Boulay and (his wife) very well," Martin testified. 

"But the fact of the matter is they are active in the Liberal Party. They do have a place in the country about an hour and a half from mine. It would not surprise me at all if at various political or social occasions I would run into them."

Martin was also asked at Gomery about a letter he sent to Boulay in 1995

"Dear Claude," the then finance minister writes. "The services that you offer could interest my Federal Office of Regional Development for Quebec, for which I am the responsible minister. Your letter has been transferred to my office in Montreal for its information." 

The development office later awarded a $50,000 contract to Everest. 

Martin said he was unaware that Boulay won the contract and said the letter he sent Boulay was a form letter. 

To further distance himself from Boulay the inquiry revealed a letter Martin sent to Boulay in 2000 turning down Boulay's invitation to his 50th birthday party. 

"I found that when I became finance minister, I got invited to a lot more birthday parties," the PM said. "It was impossible to attend them all. So I would have declined."

The intervention by the Liberal party lawyer at the inquiry on Monday was not the first time questioning has been interrupted when questions are raised by inquiry counsel about contracts awarded to Everest and Martin's name comes up.

In October, Roy asked Andree Larose, a former bureaucrat at the Public Works Department, whether she had heard anything to suggest Martin or his office had intervened to see a $68,000 contract for advertising related to federal programs to aid small and medium-sized businesses in Quebec went to Everest.

Sylvain Lussier, the lawyer representing the federal government, interjected and further questioning was put off.

Boulay, who has not been charged in relation to Adscam, has yet to appear before Gomery. 

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