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Ask the RCMP, PM tells reporters 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 4:30 p.m. January 4, 2006]

Prime Minister Paul Martin 

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Paul Martin signaled Wednesday that he is through with answering reporters' questions about the RCMP criminal investigation of his government's income trust announcement.  

The timing of the investigation has landed smack dab in the middle of a close federal election campaign that now features the Conservatives pushing ahead of the governing Liberals in most daily tracking polls. 

And the controversy has also derailed the PM's message. 

Reporters seem almost apologetic at each campaign stop after Martin makes a lengthy campaign announcement only to have the first questions be "off topic" and about the latest Liberal scandal.

"If you want to have the answers to these questions, I'm not going to basically get involved in what the RCMP is doing," Martin said while campaigning in Victoria. 

"I'm sure you can ask these questions of the RCMP. But I'm not going to be responding on a daily basis to an investigation and examinations being handled by the RCMP.

"I'm not in a position to tell you what the RCMP is going to do. All I can tell you is that to the best of my knowledge they have contacted no one in my office."

Martin made the comments after being asked the names of the people in the Prime Minister's Office and the cabinet ministers who had advance knowledge of Finance Minister Ralph Goodale's November 23 announcement on income trusts. 

Goodale's November announcement to lower the tax on dividend yielding stocks and keep in place the tax free status of income trusts has been the subject of allegations of insider trading by opposition parties and some Bay Street watchers.

On the day Goodale announced the changes there was a notable spike in the volume of a number of dividend-paying stocks and income trusts before the decision was made public when the market was closed.

Goodale was interviewed by the RCMP Tuesday evening and revealed to reporters for the first time that other cabinet ministers were in the loop on the sensitive information before it was released. 

For his part, the PM acknowledged Wednesday that people in his office and in the Privy Council Office were also aware of the announcement, but he would not give out names.

"Cleary there were people in PMO who knew of this," Martin said. "I can tell you they all swore an oath and I can tell you without equivocation that every single one of them has remained faithful to that oath, without exception."

NDP finance critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who filed the original complaint with the RCMP, was interviewed by RCMP commercial crimes investigators for over an hour on Wednesday morning.

"They were very serious," she said in an interview with PoliticsWatch. "They seemed to be very interested, took copious notes, recorded everything and I felt like I had a good hearing. They were serious about the investigation."

Wasylycia-Leis said she was only able to offer investigators information that was already public knowledge and reported in the media.

She said she believes the RCMP investigation is important because "Canadians right now are losing faith in a government that they feel may have in fact given an advantage to some people over others.

"And the international players have doubts about our own markets and need to have trust restored."

She also said the controversy is shaking confidence in the government for groups who may have to share information with finance in the future, such as banks who want to merge.

"People will have real doubts about sharing information with government and I think the ramification will be widespread and serious and we've got to restore that kind of faith in the process.

"There's got to be an understanding of a) confidentiality around any budget decision and b) some recommitment to the notion of ministerial responsibility."

The NDP MP has also filed complaints with the Ontario Securities Commission and the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission.

She said the OSC will not confirm or deny if they are investigating the trading activity, but the SEC has responded.

"They did acknowledge that the letter has been registered. They've given me a file number, a person that is in charge and say they are having discussions with their international affairs office."

But the SEC has a policy of not confirming an investigation until a case is filed in court and Wasylycia-Leis said they were pretty clear to her they would not divulge any other information regarding her complaint.

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