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Secrets of Option Canada revealed

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:26 p.m. January 9, 2006]

Scene from No side rally during the 1995 Quebec referendum campaign. 

OTTAWA  —The authors of a soon-to-be-released book on a secret unity group met the media in Montreal Monday and claimed they have the documents proving Option Canada violated spending limits set up during the Quebec referendum campaign. 

Option Canada was incorporated as a branch of the Council for Canadian Unity in September 1995, shortly before the launch of the Quebec referendum campaign. 

The Globe and Mail reported last week the RCMP is looking into part of the $4.8 million the Heritage department sent to the group in 1995. 

The book called The Secrets of Option Canada will hit book shelves on Wednesday, but the two authors Normand Lester and Robin Philpot held a press conference just hours before the final round of party leaders debates. 

Lester has been investigating the story since 1997 and caught a break in November when he came into possession of documents after a source left them beside a dumpster at a West Montreal shopping mall. 

The authors are alleging those documents show that as much as $3.5 million that the group received was spent to help out the No side in the referendum, in violation of campaign spending limits. 

Last week, the chief electoral officer of Quebec said he was re-launching an investigation into Option Canada. 

Many people volunteering for the No side were actually paid between $3,000 to $12,000 from Option Canada, according to the authors.

"We have a very, very serious case of the government injecting secret money illegally to deny a legitimate political debate from taking place," Philpot said.

The authors said Prime Minister Paul Martin, Heritage Minister Liza Frulla and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Lucienne Robillard had to be aware of Option Canada. 

Frulla was heavily involved with No side during the referendum.

The head of Option Canada at the time was Claude Dauphin, who later was an aide to Martin when he was at finance. 

Dauphin, who is now a city councillor in Montreal, has told reporters that he was unaware of how the Option Canada money was spent and he was primarily responsible for fundraising. 

"Mr. Dauphin doesn't have any relation with us," Martin's Quebec lieutenant Jean Lapierre said Monday in reaction to the authors' press conference. "He is elected as a councillor in Montreal. And he doesn't have to give any accounts to us.

"I don't think there's any relationship with this with any members of our government," Lapierre said. "Nobody has done anything wrong."

Lapierre also noted that one of the authors, Lester, lives in his riding and his people "tracked him for the last election" and he is "certainly not a Liberal supporter."

The Bloc Quebecois has long alleged that the federal money from Option Canada was used to help the No side during the referendum campaign. 

In 2004, Bloc Quebecois MP Caroline St. Hilaire suggested the Unity Council's involvement with Option Canada linked the controversy to Martin. 

"When $4.8 million disappeared without a trace from Option Canada in 1995, several people very close to (Martin) were directly involved," St. Hilaire said during question period in March 2004. "Claude Dauphin was president of Option Canada. Francis Fox sat on the Canadian Unity Council, as did Rémi Bujold, who is closely connected to the Prime Minister."

Fox later worked in Martin's PMO and last summer was appointed to the Senate by Martin. Bujold is a known Martin supporter who is senior partner at the lobbying firm GPC. Bujold's long-time involvement with the unity council culminated when he was named chair in 2000 and 2001. 

The Buzz Effect

Sources on the ground tell PoliticsWatch that Buzz Hargrove's call for NDP voters to support Liberal candidates in ridings where the NDP is a distant third is having an impact across Southwestern Ontario. 

It will likely play a role in the race in Windsor-area riding of Essex where former cabinet minister Susan Whelan is trying to win back her seat from young Tory MP Jeff Watson.

Sources tell PoliticsWatch that long-time NDP supporters in the riding are now sporting Team Martin signs on their front lawns and windows in Essex as a result of Hargrove's plea. 

NDP officials in the region and even the union are said to be none too pleased with the Buzz factor. 

In 2004, Whelan narrowly lost the riding to Watson by just 829 votes. The NDP candidate at the time finished 6,000 votes behind Watson. 

A minor campaign controversy is also dogging Watson's campaign. In the last election, he promised to move into Essex County from Windsor. Watson has yet moved into the riding, angering some voters. 

Liberal Mole now blogging

As has been reported here at PoliticsWatch, the Liberal party believes they have a mole in their midst who has been leaking campaign announcements to the media. 

Some people are questioning whether a Mole actually does exist.

But now someone claiming to be the Mole has launched his or her own blog

The Mole describes itself on the Blog as a "Senior Liberal warroom staffer located at the heart of the campaign comments on his/her view of the campaign."

If you're in need of a good laugh, the Liberal Mole's blog discusses the unusual policy ideas and photo-ops that don't make the cut in the Liberal war room and how war room food is unhealthy.

The mole even claims to have a mole inside CTV that is leaking about a rumored rivalry for airtime between CTV Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife and eight-year-old Treehouse TV star Daniel Cook. The youngster recently scored an exclusive interview with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. 

Here's a taste of some of the posts at Liberal Mole's blog.

"Now that my identity has been somehow found out by the hounds at CTV, the least I can do is share my insight on how I think the campaign is going so far.

"Let me start off with the following statement - life as a mole is not easy, and it does not pay particularly well … It's also tough to make friends - cuz when it comes out that you were the mole…well, you know how that goes. 

"But the travel is nice. And the people at CTV have treated me extremely well - I even got invited to their Christmas Party! Though I have to admit, having them print off a name tag with 'Mole' on it was slightly embarrassing."

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