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"I don't manage the programs"

(PoliticsWatch posted April 5, 2004) OTTAWA - Former public works minister David Dingwall told the committee investigating Adscam today that he implemented the first-ever government advertising guidelines in the history of Canada, but relied upon his deputy minister and public servants to ensure the rules were followed. 

"I don't manage the programs," he said. "I don't manage various contracts."

Dingwall, who was public works minister from 1993 to early 1996, made his testimony just a few days after in-camera testimony from 2002 from Chuck Guite, the executive director of the sponsorship program, was made public. 

In that testimony, Guite admitted to "bending" advertising rules in the lead up to the Quebec referendum. 

"During the referendum of 1995 my office was requested by the Federal-Provincial Relations Office to hold a competition -- I have to be careful here the term I use -- and to follow a bit of the guidelines that exist in the rules, but I may have to, for a better term, bend them a little bit, because, as you all can understand, we were basically at war trying to save the country," Guite said in 2002. 

But Dingwall said he was kept out of the loop on such activities. 

"I was certainly not aware of the breaching of the rules or the bending of the rules," he said. In fact, Dingwall said the first time he became aware of ad rules being breached with relation to the referendum was when Guite's testimony was made public on Friday. 

Conservative MP Jason Kenney expressed incredulity about Dingwall's lack of knowledge of this, given that he had earlier testified that how he was supportive of the federal government's referendum objective. 

"You're asking us to choose either incompetence or that you're not being completely forthcoming about your knowledge," said Kenney, who later suggested the former minister was painting the picture that he was "blissfully sitting in his office, hoping the rules would be followed." 

Dingwall also testified that he had "very little" knowledge of former prime minister Jean Chretien's secret Unity Fund, which was cancelled in last month's federal budget. 

Meanwhile, Bloc MP Michel Guimond surprised Dingwall, revealing a Feb. 22, 1995 memo to his then aide, Warren Kinsella, from Guite 

Guimond suggested the memo showed that Kinsella was involved in the awarding of contracts. 

"Please find attached the report, as prepared by myself, for the Government of Canada Agency of Record Selection Committee," Guite wrote. 

"I am forwarding the committee's report for your review and concurrence. Should you have any questions regarding the report or the recommendations, I would be pleased to respond to them at any time. 

"These recommendations should be ratified as soon as possible so that I can advise both the winning and losing firms as to the final decision." 

However, Dingwall said that Kinsella was not involved in the selection of communications agencies and said the memo appeared to be nothing more than information alerting the department about the awarding of a contract. 

He said that his office was only involved with this contract because it was for the agency of record, which required his approval after a competition was completed. 

Dingwall was also pressed on the testimony of Public Works whistleblower Allan Cutler, who told the committee that he was aware of contracting irregularities in the department dating back to 1994, when Dingwall was minister. 

Cutler testified about a Nov. 17 meeting between Guite, himself and other members of the contracting group at Public Works. 

"At this meeting, Mr. Guite told us that normal rules and regulations should not apply to advertising," said Cutler. "He said he would talk to the minister to have them changed.

"A week later, I was informed that myself and two other employees who worked for me would move to Mr. Guite's section and report to him immediately. At this point in time, Mr. Guite's responsibilities were expanded to include not only the selection of advertising agencies, but also the negotiation and award of contracts to selected agencies."

But Dingwall said that such a conversation between him and Guite never took place. 

"My policy and guidelines, which were approved by Cabinet, had just come into effect," he said. "I had neither the authority nor wish to change these landmark guidelines. This would have been a conversation I would remember.

"But to be clear, I invested my credibility and that of the government in the establishment of the 1994 guidelines and I had no intention of watering them down." 

He also said that concerns raised by Cutler were not raised with him because Cutler did contact his union about problems until 1996 when Dingwall was already out of the department. 

Dingwall said most of Cutler's concerns were kept in a secret diary up until 1996. 

"No one in a position of responsibility knew anything about that." 

Dingwall also denied that he was aware of concerns other Liberals had about Guite before the Liberals came to power in 1993. 

"I didn't even know of that particular individual," he said. 

Also on Guite, Dingwall was questioned about testimony his successor at Public Works, Diane Marleau, gave that upon coming into her job in January of 1996, Guite, who did not have deputy minister status, showed up in her office and declared that he reported directly to her. 

"I said, 'Not in this office, you don't,'" Marleau told the committee. "Frankly, I was shocked." 

Dingwall said that he was unable to respond to that testimony. 

"I have no idea why that would happen," said Dingwall of the Marleau-Guite meeting. 

Dingwall also testified that he did not recall having one-on-one meetings with Guite. 

Opposition MPs remained skeptical about much of Dingwall's testimony after he completed the first half of his testimony. 

"He was well rehearsed, and doing everything he can to create the impression that he was a minister responsible, but when it came to knowing what was going on at his department, he really didn't know and things happened without his knowledge," said NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis. 

"I don't buy it for a minute."

She also questioned the integrity of the questioning from some Liberal MPs on the committee of Dingwall. 

"I think the Liberals are in a very difficult position because I think they can smell something rotten here," she said. "And I think they've been instructed to pin this on Chuck Guite."

Committee chair John Williams said he had trouble believing aspects of Dingwall's testimony, especially those regarding the lack of ministerial involvement regarding the referendum campaign. 

"The way that he was suggesting that cabinet works, that they act in this sterile environment dealing with an issue of the magnitude of the referendum and the country perhaps on the brink of breaking up that they would just sit back and let the bureaucracy run a program without feedback and so on, is just totally unbelievable. 

"Not believable. Not unbelievable. Just not believable, not credible." 

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