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Bloc engaged in "witch hunt" against PMO chief of staff: Martin 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:40 p.m. May 30, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Paul Martin said in the House on Monday that the Bloc Quebecois was creating a witch hunt over his chief of staff's role in a taped discussion about abstaining on the budget vote with a Conservative MP.  

Martin made the comment after Bloc MP Michel Guimond asked for Tim Murphy, Martin's chief of staff, to step aside. 

"I think in an effort of greater civility members should not make use of their immunity in this House to engage in a witch hunt," Martin said in French. "Let me repeat once again: No offer was made. That means no offer was made."

Although the PM says no offer was made, under questioning from Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe about whether the voice on the tape is Murphy, the PM admitted, "I didn't listen to the recording."

Two weeks ago the Conservatives released an eight-minute segment of a secretly recorded conversation between Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal and Murphy in which Murphy is overheard discussing how opposition MPs could abstain from voting on the budget and save face. 

Grewal told reporters that he and his wife, Tory MP Nina Grewal, were offered patronage appointments by the PMO in return for abstaining on the budget vote. 

The PMO has denied that an offer was made and at no time during the tape does Murphy make an explicit offer to Grewal, and he carefully chooses his words and speaks about hypothetical situations. 

Murphy also says that it is a "bad idea" to "have any kind of commitment that involves an explicit trade."

Nonetheless, the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP pressed the tape issue in the House on Monday. 

NDP Leader Jack Layton said that over the break week when MPs were in their ridings he and his colleagues discovered that "there is a real concern amongst Canadians about this taped conversation that went on."

"It has placed the entire House under a real cloud," said Layton.

Layton is demanding that all the tapes should be made available to the public and the RCMP should investigate.

In addition to the eight-minute segment of tape released to the media, the Conservatives say they have nearly four hours of tape conversations between Grewal, Murphy and Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh. 

Parts of the discussions with Dosanjh are in Punjabi and are still being translated. 

The Conservatives say once the translation is completed they will hand over the tapes to the RCMP. Duceppe has written a letter to the RCMP to ask them to investigate the controversy. 

Government House Leader Tony Valeri said Monday that Ethics 
Commissioner Bernard Shapiro is currently sorting out whether he has the jurisdiction to investigate the matter as well. 

The Liberals have tried to turn the tables on Grewal and suggested that Murphy was only engaged in discussions with him because of his inability to "take no for an answer."

But after question period, Duceppe said that is not the issue. 

"The prime minister is saying he's not the one who started the whole affair. The question is not who started it or not. The question is did he say that or not."

In other developments, the Conservatives have decided not to put forward a non-confidence motion against the government when they have their opposition day on Tuesday. 

Instead, the Tories will put forward a motion from Conservative MP Gary Lunn asking to expand the terms of reference of the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal.

The motion reads: "That this House call on the Government to amend section (k) of the Gomery Commission's terms of reference to allow the Commissioner to name names and assign responsibility." 

Questions about Paragraph K first surfaced last month on the Internet on a blog called Gin and Tonic

The blogger suggested that this paragraph gave Gomery a loophole not to assign blame. 

The paragraph reads: "The Commissioner be directed to perform his duties without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization and to ensure that the conduct of the inquiry does not jeopardize any ongoing criminal investigation or criminal proceedings."

However, the Conservatives may be going alone on their opposition motion. 

Duceppe said he does not plan to support the motion because witnesses have already testified under the assumption that Gomery cannot lay criminal or civil liability. And Layton told reporters he has concerns about some of the wording in the motion. 

: Related Links

> Listen to the Grewal-Murphy tape (MP3)
Caught on tape

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