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Martin won't say if he had lunch 
with ad man 

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

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Paul Martin refused to answer repeated questions from Conservative Leader Stephen Harper in the House of Commons on Wednesday about whether he discussed a government program that received millions in sponsorship money with the head of an ad agency.  

On Monday at the Gomery inquiry, Alain Renaud, a lobbyist with the ad firm Groupaction, said he sat at a table adjacent to Martin and Claude Boulay, the head of Groupe Everest, at a Liberal party convention. 

Renaud testified that Martin, Boulay and Diane Deslaurier, Boulay's wife and a Liberal party fundraiser, were discussing Attractions Canada, a government program that received more than $11 million in sponsorships that were handled by Everest. 

Renaud's testimony was cut off after a Liberal party lawyer interjected and suggested Renaud's testimony about the nature of the conversation would hearsay.

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. 

Harper said Renaud's testimony is a contradiction to the PM's February testimony at the Gomery inquiry. 

At the Gomery inquiry when questioned about by counsel Neil Finkelstein about Boulay, Martin said the following. 

"I do not know Mr. Boulay very well, nor do I know Ms. Deslauriers very well. But the fact of the matter is that they are active in the party, the Liberal Party. They do have a place in the country about an hour, an hour and a half from mine and I would be -- it would not surprise me at all if at various political or social occasions that I would have run into them. I can't remember those occasions but I would be very surprised if that didn't occur."

"But the contacts would be such that they would be at a level that you don't recall?" asked Finkelstein.

"That is right," said Martin. 

"You are sure of that?"

"Yes," the PM said. 

In the House, Harper repeatedly asked Martin if he had a lunch meeting with Boulay, but Martin never provided a Yes or No answer and only said he did not interfere in the handing out of contracts.

Instead the PM used his response time to attack Harper for a report on medicare written by former Ontario premier Mike Harris and former Reform leader Preston Manning.

"Let us talk about transparency," Martin said. "Let us talk about the Conservative hidden agenda on health." 

"If this were not so serious, I would say the Prime Minister is in danger of making himself a national joke," Harper responded.

Martin's refusal to answer the question even drew the ire of NDP MP Ed Broadbent, a veteran parliamentarian, who said Martin was making a "mockery" out of the House for refusing to answer Harper's questions. 

After question period, Broadbent called the prime minister's performance "absurd."

"For a man who's talking about moral authority it undermines his own moral authority," he said. "When you're heading a government you have to have respect for the institutions and part of that respect is to show that when you get a serious question, you give some kind of serious answer."

Harper also made a rare appearance in the foyer after question period after a large number of reporters wanted to know if Harris and Manning's position paper was Conservative party policy.

"This is the most transparent attempt possible to evade a very serious question about whether the prime minister perjured himself at the Gomery commission," said Harper. 

NDP Leader Jack Layton said the PM's refusal to answer questions was "a disgraceful performance."

"Simply answering a question about whether you had lunch with someone; Why should that be so difficult? It's astounding to me that he would try to turn around and start asking the opposition questions," Layton said. 

Conservative MP and campaign chairman John Reynolds laughed when reporters asked him if Martin's accusations of a hidden-health care agenda were valid.

"This party has no hidden agenda. We're not the ones who voted to legalize marijuana and to legalize prostitution and we're not the ones whose prime minister or leader of the party goes to a private clinic to get his health care."

: Related Links

> Martin asked about lunch with ad man
> Transcript of Martin's testimony at Gomery

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