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Chretien fights back 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 7:30 p.m. November 1, 2005]

Prime Minister Jean Chretien reacts to the Gomery report during a press conference with reporters at the National Press Theatre on Tuesday.

OTTAWA  — Former prime minister Jean Chretien returned to the National Press Theatre on Tuesday to defend his legacy after the judge examining the sponsorship program said he had to share the blame for the problems. 
   
In a vintage Chretien performance where at  times he was near tears and at other times cracking one liners, Chretien said during his 30 minute press conference that Justice John Gomery made numerous errors in his report and renewed his charges that Gomery was biased against him. 

With his lawyer David Scott at his side, Chretien said he was launching an action in the federal court to have a judicial review of Gomery's report. 

"He is wrong about his findings about the roles, responsibilities and powers of the Prime Minister's Office which allowed him to conclude that the whole apparatus of the government ... were powerless to fulfill their lawful responsibilities," Chretien said reading from a prepared statement. 

"Instead, and quite incredibly, he chose to base his report on what Charles Guite said about Jean Pelletier."

Guite was the man who ran the program during its heyday and is the only federal official to be charged by the RCMP for his role in the sponsorship scandal. 

Pelletier is Chretien's long-time chief of staff, who Gomery singled out in government and concluded he provided the political direction to Guite. 

While Gomery determined Chretien and Pelletier were unaware that Liberal organizer Jacques Corriveau was using the sponsorship program as a "kickback scheme," he blamed Chretien for his decision to operate the program out of the Prime Minister's Office against the wishes of the Clerk of the Privy Council. 

Gomery said that decision meant that he "must share the blame for the mismanagement that ensued."

"Since Mr. Chretien chose to run the program from his own office, and to have his own exempt staff take charge of its direction, he is accountable for the defective manner in which the sponsorship program and initiatives were implemented," wrote Gomery.

"Mr. Pelletier, for whom Mr. Chretien was responsible, failed to take the most elementary precautions against mismanagement. "

Gomery also said Chretien's assumption that Guite would properly administer the program was "na´ve, imprudent and entirely unfounded." 

But Chretien said the judge got it wrong. 

"Justice Gomery found that the sponsorship program was run out of the Prime Minister's Office. There is no evidence before him to back up that assertion. Justice Gomery is simply wrong on his finding."

Chretien said because Gomery's findings were based on incorrect information that Pelletier was running the program he was "not going to accept blame for something that's not true."

The former prime minister also took exception with one of Gomery's comments in which he praised the actions of former public works minister and now Finance Minister Ralph Goodale.

Gomery went out of his way to point out in his report that when Goodale became public works minister in 2002 he discontinued the use of ad agencies to administer the program and put that function in the public service. Gomery said it was a "common sense standard illustrated by Mr. Goodale's corrective measures."

"What Mr. Chretien and Mr. Pelletier should have done in 1996 was what Mr. Goodale did in 2002," Gomery wrote.

But Chretien said Goodale was "acting on my instructions" when he made the reorganization in sponsorship in 2002. 

Chretien also accused the Gomery inquiry of not calling Goodale to testify because he would have cleared Chretien. Goodale testified after lobbying by Chretien's lawyers, the former PM said. 

"It's a bit surprising that all the witness that could have said nice things about my administration were not invited," Chretien said. 

Chretien said the inquiry was biased against him because the chief counsel of the inquiry, Bernard Roy, was a former chief of staff of a political adversary, former prime minister Brian Mulroney. 

He said sarcastically that he would recommend his former chief of staff, Eddie Goldenberg, as the lead counsel for the next inquiry into the Conservatives. 

Chretien also put distance between himself and Corriveau, a man that Gomery described as the "central figure in an elaborate kickback scheme" that sent sponsorship money to the Liberal party. 

Corriveau has been described as a close friend of Chretien, but Chretien said he knew Corriveau because he had been working in the Liberal party in Quebec for 40 years. 

"He was interested in music and my wife and I are interested in music," Chretien said. 

"We know him, but he never told me he was organizing that."

: Related Links

> Gomery exonerates Martin, blames Chretien, Pelletier, Gagliano

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