April 20, 2004) OTTAWA
- Last year, the Economist magazine declared that after 10 years of the Chretien government Canada was "cool."
Over the weekend, a New York Times story profiling Auditor General Sheila Fraser and her two most recent reports painted a picture of Canada as corrupt with lax
security and Liberal malfeasance.
"Ever since that audit came out, the country has been gripped by daily nationally televised parliamentary hearings into the scandal that have kept Liberal Party malfeasance in the headlines and have displayed divisions within the governing party about how to manage the scandal," the New York Times reported.
The page A4 Sunday New York Times story generally explained the sponsorship program in language plainer than that of Fraser.
"In several instances, the companies did nothing more than cash checks and deliver money for a program that was intended to raise the federal government's profile in Quebec by sponsoring a documentary about the ice hockey great Maurice Richard and putting flags and banners around events like the Quebec City winter carnival," the story explained.
The Times story made linkages to the "governing party," saying Fraser's report outlined how "senior officials had
funnelled $75 million (U.S.) in commissions in exchange for little or no work to Quebec advertising firms that were big donors to the Liberal Party."
More damaging to Canada's image with the U.S. than the sponsorship scandal was the Times' decision to lead with Fraser's last report in March that outlined "significant gaps and errors" in post-Sept. 11 security spending.
"Her report said there was lax intelligence sharing between agencies, disarray in lists of terror suspects kept at Canada's borders and thousands of people with questionable and even criminal backgrounds working in the country's five major airports."
Not exactly something people living in a country with a colour-coded level of public panic scale want to read about on a Sunday.
In the Times story, Fraser defends herself from criticism that she was becoming "overly political" with the language she uses in her reports.
"People are saying I am the one who inflamed all this," she said. "I am just quite simply doing my job. It worries me when people allude to us as the opposition, playing that kind of political role."
Speaking to reporters this week about the New York Times story, John Williams, chair of the Public Accounts committee investigating Adscam, defended Fraser's work.
"She has done her work in a very professional manner," he said. "She stands behind it. And we have full confidence in her report. And I'm dismayed that the government and the Liberal Party would tend to start attacking the Auditor General.
"I think it's far more important that set these types of things aside and investigate this on behalf of Canadians and find out what went wrong, who's got the money and was there value received."
The New York Times is not alone in giving international headlines to the sponsorship scandal.
In February, Conservative foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day raised the issue of Canada's damaged profile in headlines across the world in the wake of the scandal.
"Headlines like these around the globe have screamed out the news this week," said Day in question period.
"A headline in the New York Times said, 'Scandal Haunts Canadian Leader.' Headline in the Washington Post said, 'Canada's Prime Minister Acts to Counter Scandal.' Taipei Times headline said, 'Kickback Scandal Grips Canada.' The Korean Daily said, 'Corruption Raises Ugly Head.' BBC News said, 'Ottawa 'mishandled' public funds.' BBC News said, 'Ottawa 'damaged by funds scandal.'
"Is this the Prime Minister's way to win our international reputation?" he asked.
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