Liberal corruption meets the U.S.
[PoliticsWatch Updated 1:15 p.m. April 4, 2005]
OTTAWA — Liberal corruption may have met its match.
Allowed to exist for years with an opposition that seems to choke when it goes for the jugular and a complacent, friendly and often lazy media more interested in getting leaked the big government funding announcements than getting brown envelopes, Liberal corruption ran square into an ever-growing and mighty force on the weekend - the American Blogger who is not afraid
of the laws of this land.
Last week it seemed the Liberals had dodged yet another silver bullet when Jean Brault, the ad man who received the greatest amount of money in the sponsorship scandal, had Justice John Gomery place a publication ban on his testimony. Gomery said he feared the prejudicial nature of Brault's testimony would taint the jury pool for his
upcoming trial for fraud.
A publication ban is the type authoritarian instrument Canadians have that seems to have helped Liberals duck accountability in the past. Like the government having the ability to launch an inquiry into its wrongdoings and then pull the plug when it feels like it. Or its upper chamber, which is supposed to be a legislative check on the lower chamber, being appointed entirely at the discretion of the leader of the lower chamber.
These things would seem to be, as the prime minister would say, part of a rich tapestry of "Canadian values."
And these types of happy coincidences just didn't happen under the watch of Prime Minister Paul Martin's predecessor, former prime minister Jean Chretien.
In addition to Gomery, Martin granted the Commons public accounts committee a mandate to start its own probe into
Looking back in light of Gomery, the hearings were nothing more than a farce - a sham where Liberal MPs were nothing more than stooges for 20-something communication aides from the Prime Minister's Office who constantly whispered in the MPs ears or passed them a note during testimony.
In the months before the last election, the government failed to provide the committee with a number of embarrassing documents that were later revealed
at the Gomery inquiry after the election. Add to that the committee was dominated by a majority of Liberal MPs who controlled the witnesses who appeared before the committee, seemed to be following a line of questioning that would blame the whole matter on a single bureaucrat and would throw softball questions to key figures in the scandal who appeared before it.
A good bet for time-management savvy reporters covering the committee was to have a coffee break or get a haircut while Liberal MPs were at bat with their questions.
The public accounts committee's work was cut short when the Liberals opted to go to the polls.
At the time, the opposition MPs on the steering committee were lobbying to have an aide who worked in former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano's office appear before the committee.
Joanne Bouvier was pre-screened by a Public Accounts steering committee and would have been called as a witness had the committee not had to wrap up its work before an election was called.
"She had something positive to contribute to the inquiry, but we weren't able to bring her forward," said John Williams, a Conservative MP who chaired the committee. "The opposition members thought it was appropriate to bring her forward, but the Liberals decided, 'No, that was not the case.'"
What did Bouvier have to bring forward when she later appeared at the Gomery inquiry?
Just a connection to Martin's office lobbying for a sponsorship grant for an organization headed by one of his key leadership campaign fundraisers.
"Paul Martin's office telephoned us to find out why Les Internationaux du Sport de Montreal hasn't had a response to their sponsorship request for $600,000," a Bouvier document tabled at the inquiry explained.
The organization was later given a smaller grant.
Had the revelation come before the federal election campaign, it could have proven embarrassing to Martin, who launched all these investigative processes and claims he knew nothing about the wrongdoing in the sponsorship program.
So on Friday, when word started circulating in Ottawa about the nature of the damning testimony given in Montreal by Brault, while at the same time Martin's House Leader Tony Valeri appeared to be threatening an election over the budget implementation bill, there was a feeling that we had seen this all before: The government calls a snap election while the most damaging allegations of corruption ever leveled at this government sit under a publication
ban long enough to squeeze in a six-week election campaign.
Game, set, majority.
While second-hand accounts were being discussed in a two-block radius of Parliament Hill, most of the country was in the dark on Friday evening when
Global News Ottawa bureau chief Jacques Bourbeau reported from Ottawa to talk about the "disturbing" testimony that had come out of Gomery.
Bourbeau, however, was unable to provide any details except for the fact that he was unable to provide any
details and that it was shocking.
And ears perked up later in the night when CTV News' Robert Fife, in a similar stand up live report with no video, said the allegations were so damaging to the Liberals that it would alter the political landscape with the Bloc Quebecois sweeping Quebec and the Conservatives forming a minority government with the Liberals in opposition.
An entire country, with the exception of those with a friend in federal politics or a contact in the national media, was left to scratch its collective head and wonder just what was so damaging to the Liberals. From the sounds of Bourbeau and Fife one could imagine that Saddam Hussein, Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson, Robert Blake and O.J. Simpson were all somehow now involved in this scandal.
In the old world, that would have been it. And all you could do was sit back, sip on your juice box and wait for the day Gomery made the testimony public.
But less than 24 hours after PoliticsWatch made the prediction that a U.S. blog would probably break the ban, the business as usual in Canada changed.
At 5:30 p.m. on Saturday April 2, an American blogger - whose name PoliticsWatch cannot mention because it could be construed as being in violation of the publication ban - made a post headlined "Canada's Corruption Scandal Breaks Wide Open"
"A political scandal involving the Public Works Ministry, a government effort called the Sponsorship Program, and allegations of corruption in the ruling Liberal Party has Canada abuzz with rumors" the blogger wrote.
What followed is under a publication ban and cannot be reprinted or discussed in Canadian publications, but nonetheless it can be found on the Internet and is a second-hand account of what is, without doubt, the worst allegation of corruption seen since the sponsorship scandal broke.
It goes far beyond ad firm employees getting free box seats to hockey games and, if true, raises questions about the state of democracy in Canada.
One Parliamentary reporter has said the information the Minnesota-based blogger has posted was accurate to what has been testified to.
Within an hour, dozens of Canadian blogs and political forums began making links to the story on the American blog. And the blog began circulating in e-mails across the country.
On Sunday night, the American blog received "tens of thousands of visitors" after
CTV News named the blog in their story on the publication ban.
And on Monday morning the blogger revealed something that may rattle nerves in the Prime Minister's Office -- "I expect to have more information today on the Adscam testimony, as well as more background information on why this matters to both Canadians and Americans. That may come later in the day, probably in the early evening."
The Globe and Mail reported on Monday
that a transcript of Brault's testimony was making the rounds with
some political staffers.
While this story is in its early stages, what is clear is that the U.S. readers of the blog and other bloggers that are now following this story are perplexed about how such serious allegations about the government at a public inquiry can be withheld from the public at the same time the government is in a showdown that could lead to an election.
"Well, the ruling Canadian government is manipulating the system in a way that you only see parralleled in places like Zimbabwe to ensure their protection," wrote one blogger.
A newspaper report this morning suggests Gomery is considering finding one Canadian news aggregator in contempt of court for posting a link to the U.S. blog over the weekend.
That has also stirred up the American blogosphere, who are beginning what can only be described as a small
but growing "Free Canada" movement.
The fearful comments of Canadian bloggers that were linking to the Brault testimony were compared by some American bloggers to Iraqi bloggers before Saddam was ousted.
A charge against a Canadian blogger for breaking a publication ban for "linking" will no doubt spread across the Internet on many of the more popular blogs.
It could lead to a showdown between two major forces in North American politics - the natural governing party of Canada and the pro-Bush, libertarian "pajamahaden."
The Liberals should know that this informal network of American
blogs should not be taken lightly and have a surprising track record of moving mountains. In the last year alone they have been able to get media attention for the Swift Boat Veterans who questioned John Kerry's war record, had Dan Rather essentially removed from network television and had the president of
CNN's news division quit after he told an international forum without any proof American soldiers were "targeting" journalists in Iraq.
The way this blog hit machine works is based largely in the obsessive nature of the bloggers and sort of a pack mentality. The bloggers are relentless and will continue to uncover as much damaging information until it starts to seep into the mainstream media in the U.S. It usually begins with pundits who are blog readers or bloggers themselves appearing on cable news panel shows and mentioning the story the mainstream media is overlooking.
Also the media from the major dailies are aware of the blogs and often the hot thing in the blog universe is written about by papers such as
The Washington Post or the New York Times. And once a story has the legitimacy of
the Post or the Times then it starts to get picked up by other big dailies. And if the story has legs, it is soon discussed hourly on cable news programming.
Some of the American blogs now have their sites on Canada and have
quickly started to learn all the key words - Adscam, CSL, Mr. Dithers and Power Corp.
And when the blogs aim to do something they aim high.
"Will Blogs bring down the Canadian government?" asked one Los Angeles blogger on Monday morning
"The Liberals may be planning on calling a snap election before the gag order expires," wrote the blogger.
"Whether this is the best of bad options for the Liberals remains to be seen -- surely anything but a lapdog press would scream holy hell if they tried that in a free country. Which I still assume Canada is. Luckily for Canada, there is this Internet thing.
"Lucky also that a Canadian judge's order isn't meaningful in the USA."
The tens of thousands of Canadians who read the Brault testimony on Sunday night are probably saying the same thing.
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