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Showtime for Chretien 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 6:20 p.m. February 7, 2005]

Former PM Jean Chretien
(www.politicswatch.com News Services File photo). 

OTTAWA — Canadian political junkies are set to watch their own version of the Super Bowl beginning Tuesday when former prime minister Jean Chretien makes his much-anticipated appearance at the inquiry investigating the sponsorship scandal.
  
Chretien will be asked about his knowledge of how a handful of ad firms were able to receive $100 million in fees and commissions from a $250 million program aimed at plastering the Canada word mark across Quebec. 

A 2003 report by the Auditor General questioned the amount of work those ad firms actually did for the commissions and, in some cases, suggested the agencies were paid for merely passing on a cheque from the sponsorship program to events where the word mark would appear. 

Both the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservatives have suggested the owners of the ad firms, many of which donated thousands to the Liberal Party during the duration of the sponsorship program, were rewarded with contracts for their friendships with senior Quebec Liberals. 

Armed with the label of a fighter, the former prime minister will be involved in a fight for his legacy over the next two days, as much of his accomplishments are becoming overshadowed by what has been called Adscam. 

Even before his appearance, the former PM was already battling as his lawyers were dispatched to have the head of the inquiry, Justice John Gomery, recuse himself from the proceedings because of a handful of pre-Christmas interviews he gave to the media in which he offered rather frank views for a judge on the testimony and witnesses. 

Chretien insiders have told a number of reporters that he was particularly irked by judge's description of the government's purchase of a golf balls featuring Chretien's signature as "small-town cheap." 

A veteran of public life for over 40 years, expect Chretien to hold his ground under questioning and not drop the ball like one of his former staffers did last week. 

Jean Carle, who was involved with the sponsorship program in jobs he held at the PMO and the Business Development Bank of Canada, stunned Gomery watchers Friday when he agreed with Justice Gomery's description of one sponsorship deal involving the BDC as "money laundering."

Chretien's appearance at the inquiry will be followed by his long-time rival Prime Minister Paul Martin in back-to-back testimony that is expected to go on until Friday. 

The two PMs' week of testimony will return the sponsorship scandal, which badly damaged the Liberal Party before the last election, to the top of the national agenda. 

Opposition leaders are among those who will be glued to their television sets.. 

"We know what happened," said Conservative Leader Stephen Harper after question period Monday. 

"One witness, for all intents and purposes, has admitted that we had a money laundering scheme. It's the biggest scandal in Canadian history. The best Mr. Martin and Mr. Chretien can do is to be seen as least trying to tell all of the truth.

"We have two prime ministers forced to testify on corruption in the government and I don't think they should in any way downplay the seriousness of this whole proceeding." 

NDP Leader Jack Layton said there is a lot at stake in the testimony. 

"It would be just really refreshing to have (Chretien) come in and say, 'You know what. I'm going to take responsibility for this. I was prime minister at the time. We should have done things differently.'

"It would be nice to see a little humility for a change." 

In testimony at the Gomery inquiry Monday, Chretien's long-time chief of staff vehemently denied the Prime Minister's Office had its hands on the lever of the sponsorship program. 

"We had nothing to do with this. I couldn't be clearer," Jean Pelletier testified when asked if he was aware of the money paid to ad agencies identified in the auditor general's report. 

"We never chose any agencies at the Prime Minister's Office for what you call the sponsorship program."

Pelletier said he had "a clear conscience about all of this."

In testimony before the inquiry in November, the director of the sponsorship program, Chuck Guite, testified that Pelletier, former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano, and Carle would review the lists of sponsorships and their costs. 

Guite also testified about "pressures to participate" in some events and that Pelletier specified which ad agencies would receive work.

The inquiry is trying to examine how ad agencies received $100 million in commissions and fees from the $250 million sponsorship program. The ad agencies used are often described as Liberal friendly in media reports. 

Pelletier testified Monday that Guite would consult with the PMO to get opinions on what was going on in Quebec because he was unable to get an accurate picture from the majority of MPs from Quebec at the time because they were members of the Bloc Quebecois. 

"We gave our advice and Mr. Guite arrived with lists," he said. "I never saw anything else but lists. Lists of names of events and amounts requested. I never saw lists where it appeared the name of an agency or a designated intermediary for such and such a file.

"He would come with sheets of papers, he would sit in front of me in front of my desk and he would ask for our comments and we gave our comments."

Pelletier also had a different interpretation of a 1996 memo from the Clerk of the Privy Council that said Chretien had responsibility for the sponsorship program because the money for the program originated in a special unity fund under his control. 

Pelletier said that while the PMO made recommendations about events to sponsor to Guite it was ultimately his decision and his responsibility. 

He also denied that any contact he may have had with ad firm executives influenced decisions in the awarding of work. 

"I never discussed advertising contracts with Mr. Jean Lafleur," Pelletier said of the owner of one of the ad firms named in the auditor general's report, Lafleur Communication. 

He recounted how he ran into Lafleur on the street one day and he complained to Pelletier about the amount of business he was receiving from the government. 

"So I told him send me figures. He sent me figures. I never followed up on the issue at all."

Pelletier testified that his boss wanted the rules to be followed. 

"In my duties for prime minister Chretien, I never felt any need to break any rules," he told the inquiry. "Mr. Chretien was, in that regard, extremely precise. He wanted the rules to be followed."  

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