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Gomery exonerates Martin, blames Chretien, Pelletier, Gagliano 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 1:35 p.m. November 1, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Justice John Gomery has exonerated Prime Minister Paul Martin of "any blame" in the sponsorship scandal, but has pointed a finger at former prime minister Jean Chretien and his chief of staff. 
   
Gomery's long-awaited report on the sponsorship program was publicly released at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning after Government House Leader Tony Valeri tabled it in the House of Commons. 

What could have been a bad day for the Liberal government may turn out to be a good day because Gomery went out of his way in his report to clear the current prime minister's name. 

"Mr. Martin, whose role as finance minister did not involve him in the supervision of spending by the PMO or (Public Works), is entitled, like other ministers in the Quebec caucus, to be exonerated from any blame for carelessness or misconduct," Gomery concluded in a chapter on Assigning Responsibility.

The Bloc Quebecois and the Conservatives have spent months trying to link Martin to the scandal, including an argument that as finance minister and vice chair of the Treasury Board he should have aware of problems with the program. 

But Justice Gomery rejected those arguments, and exonerated not just Martin, but many of the former Chretien cabinet ministers who are now in his cabinet or in his caucus. The only Quebec cabinet ministers fingered is former public workers minister Alfonso Gagliano.

Despite the exoneration of Martin, Gomery's report is an indictment of the many in the Liberal party and what he described as a "culture of entitlement" among political officials involved in the sponsorship program. 

Martin held a press conference at the National Press Theatre before question period and revealed that he had taken further steps including referring Gomery's report to the RCMP for "any and all appropriate reaction," banning 10 Liberals mentioned in the report and instructing the party to return $1.14 million to the public treasury. 

Martin said Chretien was not among the 10 people who he was recommending to be kicked out of the party, but Gagliano was.

"The story that unfolds (in Gomery's report) is troubling," Martin said. "But it's a story that needed to be told in full, in detail and in public."

Martin said he "accepts the findings" and "accepts the conclusions" of Justice Gomery, including some of the harsh conclusions he reached about his predecessor and some in his inner circle.

But Martin refused to specifically offer his personal opinion on Chretien and Pelletier's role specified by Gomery and said the report "speaks for itself."

The prime minister also said he was still proud to be a Liberal today because even though it was a Liberal government that created the sponsorship program, it was a Liberal government that launched the inquiry and is paying back the money.

Martin said the findings of Justice Gomery of corruption and kickbacks "is not the Liberal way."

"I'm obviously pleased," said Martin when asked about Gomery's decision to exonerate him, but he repeated his previous statements that he wished he had been more vigilant while he was finance minister and sponsorship shenanigans were occurring. 

Two of the three opposition parties said the government does not have the moral authority to govern. 

MPs only have until this week to bring the government down if they want an election before Christmas. 

"I don't think Canadians want an election over Christmas, but I do believe this government should be brought down," Conservative Leader Stephen Harper told reporters at a press conference.

Harper said he has spoken with Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and they were in agreement they would not go ahead with an attempt to bring down the government unless the opposition parties could present a united front. 

The key stumbling block, according to Harper, is NDP Leader Jack Layton, who was again non-committal about whether he would join the opposition parties in defeating the government. 

"Mr. Layton is going to have to decide whether he thinks this is an issue worthy of bringing the government down," Harper said. "I just don't understand where Jack is coming from."

He also downplayed Martin's exoneration by Gomery and noted that the Conservatives have never suggested Martin played a role in wrongdoing. 

"I can't think of any other Parliamentary democracy where a scandal of this magnitude and this nature where the prime minister was the chief financial officer when this occurred that the government would not fall." 

Duceppe immediately reacted by demanding an opposition day this week, which would allow the opposition parties to table a motion of non-confidence in the minority government.

"I don't think we have to wait for the second report. It's up to the Canadian people to judge the Liberal party and the Liberal government," said Duceppe. "They no longer have the moral authority to govern."

"Paul Martin cannot ignore what was happening in the Liberal party," said Duceppe. "He was No. 2 at the time of that party and the government. He could not have not heard what was said and what was written. But of course he closed his eyes."

Although Layton said "we cannot trust Liberals to solve the whole issue of Liberal corruption," he would not rule out brokering a deal with the government on health care in return for his party's support on confidence votes similar to what happened in the spring. 

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