Top Five Scandals of 2004
[PoliticsWatch posted 4:30 p.m. December 17, 2004]
|Justice John Gomery oversees the inquiry
into the sponsorship scandal
(Photo courtesy Jake Wright www.jakewright.ca)
It was quite a year for
scandal watchers in Ottawa.
At one point it seemed each new week would
bring a new scandal.
In fact, as this feature is being written, the
morning newspapers are full of reports of a new scandal involving an
Immigration department bureaucrat who allegedly sold immigration
approvals to Arabs for as much as $25,000.
Cronyism, queue jumping, clerical error, rogue
bureaucrats, mad as hell and graft were all taken out and used
around Ottawa this year as the scandals continued to pour in
PoliticsWatch presents its picks for the
top five scandals of 2004.
The scandal that ended the hopes of a fourth Liberal majority is the
choice for scandal of the year.
What other scandal has spawned an auditor
general's report, a rare parliamentary committee inquiry and a
How $100 million in federal government sponsorship money ended up going to a few, select ad firms with little or no documentation has not been
fully answered by the auditor general or the Commons public accounts committee.
But the judicial inquiry headed by Justice John Gomery is beginning
to scratch the surface after testimony from witnesses in Ottawa over
the past three months.
Testimony at the Gomery inquiry to date has
suggested that the involvement of senior Chretien cabinet ministers
and PMO officials in the direction of the program was more prevalent
than had previously been reported.
Both Chuck Guite, the director of the
sponsorship program, and Ran Quail, deputy minister of the Public
Works department at the time, testified that former public works
minister Alfonso Gagliano and former Chretien chief of staff Jean
Pelletier often had the final word on which programs received
sponsorships and which ad agencies received commissions.
And in its final week of hearings this year,
television producer Robert Scully, whose company received $11.5
million in sponsorship money, testified that four ad firms that
received $350,000 in commissions on one of his projects did no work
for the money.
He also testified that soon after receiving sponsorship grants he
was approached at least a dozen times by persistent Liberal Party
Scully's testimony seems to provide credence to
two of the opposition's claims about Adscam -- the ad firms did no
work for their money and that some of the money was funnelled back
to the Liberal Party.
While the Gomery inquiry has not been the media
circus that was the Public Accounts committee, things are expected
to heat up in the new year when Prime Minister Paul Martin and
former prime minister Jean Chretien are set to testify.
2. Champagne Living
It's more expensive than the sponsorship scandal, but receives far
less media attention and hasn't made the PM publicly say he's
"Mad as hell" about it or call for an inquiry.
The Hewlett-Packard-DND scandal, where $146 million was spent for computer maintenance subcontract work that never happened,
comes in at No. 2 for the year.
No one has been charged, but over the summer
the Departmen tof National Defence and Hewlett-Packard announced they were suing the bureaucrat at the centre of the scandal, Paul Champagne.
Earning just a $58,000 annual salary working for the Defence Department, Champagne somehow was able to garner $20 million in investments and real estate over a 10-year period, including a $1.4 million home with tennis
court and a gym just outside of Ottawa, a home on a golf course in Florida, a $2 million beachfront mansion in Turks and Caicos, and an 11.9 per cent stake in the publicly-traded company WorkStream Inc.
Champagne says he amassed his empire from good investments and some luck at Las Vegas casinos.
A National Post feature in July provided an in depth explanation of how the scheme worked from a lawyer of one of the firms involved, RMC Systems.
The lawyer alleges Champagne arranged a phoney invoice scheme when he posed as a defence consultant and asked RMC to handle billings and collections for a 15-per-cent commission.
Whenever the firm's accountants asked Champagne to provide details about the work that was done, he would allegedly reply by saying, "The documents and backup data are there if necessary, but you don't have the security clearances to see it. This is top secret."
Officials at Hewlett-Packard also said they were duped in the scheme for the same reason.
"It was a unique situation, involving a unique customer. No other Canadian client could credibly declare subcontract work top secret and get away with it," a company spokesman told the
Question period has become the Judy Sgro show over the past two
months as the Conservatives pepper the Immigration minister on a
daily basis with questions about preferential Immigration treatment
being given to her campaign supporters.
The Sgro scandal, which comes in at No. 3 for the year, appears to
have no end as each week brings a new revelation from CanWest
Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife, National Post reporter
Andrew MacIntosh or the Toronto Sun.
Speculation around Ottawa is that Sgro may be being ambushed by a
former insider who was among the large number of staffers she let go
after the federal election.
When Parliament returned after a brief Remembrance Day recess, news
reports surfaced about how Sgro fast tracked the immigration case of
a Romanian stripper who volunteered on her campaign. The same story
also reported that a pizza delivery man who gave pizzas to her
election campaign was wanted on a warrant.
But it didn't end there.
Since the scandal broke, an NDP MP has accused
Sgro's staffers of hinting that any immigration problems he brings
to the minister could be overlooked if he continued to pressing the
issue with the media.
It was also learned that a Sgro staffer held
meetings at strip clubs with two separate strip club owners who were
looking to bring in dancers from foreign counties
And Sgro's office recently returned a $5,000 cheque to a campaign donor who indicated he was issuing the donation on behalf of someone else, which is not allowed under election laws.
Naseer Sadiq, a leader in the Ahmadiyya community and who is on Sgro's riding executive, received the $5,000 receipt.
Sgro told reporters she approved ministerial permits during the campaign for members of the Ahmadiyya community and granted travel permits for Ahmadiyyans to come to Canada for a convention.
The National Post reported that Sgro attended one of those events on June 21, the same date that appears on the cheque.
Some aspects of the scandal are being
investigated by Ethics Comissioner Bernard Shapiro.
The Sgro controversy is a high-stakes game for
both Shapiro and the prime minister.
Shapiro, whose predecessor Howard Wilson was
called a lap dog of the PM by critics, will be bringing his first
report involving a cabinet minister at the centre of a scandal
forward. How he rules on the case will be watched closely by the
media and opposition.
And for the PM, he wants to avoid at all costs
having to have a minister step down because of a scandal. If Sgro
has to go, she would be the first Paul Martin cabinet member to do
so and it would continue a Liberal pattern that began in the final
years of the Chretien era.
In his first week in the House of Commons as prime minister, the PM
had to face repeated questions about the amount of business his
family company conducted with the federal government.
This came after the government revealed the
total amount was $161 million, not the $137,000 a previous Order
Paper response had suggested.
The PM blamed a clerical error on the large
discrepancy, but it dominated question period and the PM's media
appearances in the first week the House returned in February.
The story was quickly knocked off the agenda
after a week when the auditor general's report on the sponsorship
program was released.
The PM had referred the discrepancy in the
amount of business to the auditor general to investigate.
In November, Sheila Fraser said the final
figure the government gave was "reasonably complete," but
she added she could not guarantee if it was the final amount because
of a lack of cooperation from some government organizations.
NDP Leader Jack Layton took issue with the
government's reporting on the business relationship between Martin's
family firm and the government.
"Companies were excluded, whole departments were excluded, port authorities were excluded, the very place where one would expect a shipping magnate to deal with the
government," he said.
5. General Bureaucratic corruption
The final pick for scandal of the year is the
death by a thousand cuts, which is the general corruption found in
federal departments over the past year.
> A bribes-for-permit scheme in the
department of Immigration in which some Arab immigrants paid as much
as $25,000 for bureaucrats to fast track or approve their
> A former Privy Council Office administrative assistant sentenced to a year of house
arrest for stealing $16,000 by forging phoney travel advances.
> A top Canadian diplomat
in Beijing resigned following reports he is being investigated for
having sought bribes ranging from $10,000 to $20,000
in exchange for visas from already rejected Canadian student visa applicants
> A lack of proper screening and patronage for the federal government's appointments to the
Immigration and Refugee Board.
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