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PM blames "small group of people" 

(PoliticsWatch posted February 11, 2004) OTTAWA - The fallout from Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report detailing government sponsorship programs being used to funnel commissions to Liberal-friendly communications firms in Quebec continued on Parliament Hill today, with the prime minister suggesting that a small group of individuals in the Department of Public Works were responsible and the opposition saying that cabinet ministers were in the loop. 

"I do know that there are individuals in cabinet that knew what was going on here," Conservative Party Leader Grant Hill told reporters after question period. 

The most damning thing in Fraser's report was a chapter detailing how $100 million of a $250 million sponsorship program, aimed at raising the visibility of the federal government following the near loss in the Quebec referendum, went to communications firms for commissions and fees, often for merely transfering a cheque from the federal government to program applicants. 

Hill wouldn't elaborate on who the ministers were, but said the information will come out "in the weeks to come." 

When asked whether it was ministers in Martin's cabinet or ministers in Chretien's cabinet, Hill said, "The same group of individuals." 

There are currently 18 members of Martin's cabinet who were in the Chretien's last cabinet. Four of those ministers are from Quebec: Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew, Industry Minister Lucienne Robillard, President of the Queen's Privy Council Denis Coderre and Secretary of State for Financial Institutions Denis Paradis. 

Already one former cabinet minister has taken the fall. Yesterday, former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano was recalled from Denmark where he is ambassador.

Hill said that Gagliano is nothing but a "scapegoat" for the government to take the blame for the scandal. 

"This in my mind isn't really a Chretien issue, this is a Martin issue. He's the man we're interested in getting answers from."

NDP MP Bill Blaikie agreed with Hill's characterization of Gagliano playing the role of the fall guy. 

"I think Mr. Gagliano is being made to take the fall for the whole Liberal Party," he told reporters. 

"There's no question that he was involved. But to suggest that somehow he was operating independent of the culture of the Liberals and independent of the knowledge of other MPs in Quebec is just ridiculous on the face of it."

While Blaikie didn't say he had names of other cabinet ministers who had prior knowledge of the extent of the sponsorship fiasco, he said he believes that other ministers knew about problems with the program.

"They may not have known all the details, but I think that they knew what was going on. And anybody who believes otherwise seems to me is willing to believe anything." 

The opposition's decision to widen the scope of who knew what in the government came as the prime minister said in question period that the scandal only involved a small group of individuals. 

"The Auditor General stated that these acts were perpetrated by a very small group of people among the 14,000 people who work for public works," Martin said during question period.

"She also stated that they operated without surveillance. She also stated that they broke laws. When they broke those laws and those rules they did not come to cabinet and ask to break those rules. 

"What they did was engage in a very sophisticated way of camouflaging what they were doing. As a result of that the government did not know. There were rumours and those rumours eventually came out."

The opposition, however, said they weren't buying the small group of people theory. 

"Is it not interesting that yesterday the prime minister knew nothing about this whole affair," said Conservative MP Leon Benoit in the House. 

"Today he seems to know all about it, including who this little group is that is responsible for this. Would the Prime Minister tell us who this little group is and name some names?"

Blaikie was also skepitical of the government's new line of defence. 

"I think it's shameful that they're trying to pretend that this was some kind of covert operations. I just don't think it's credible.

"The fact of the matter is that they all had some idea of what was going on and they didn't do anything about it.

"If the Canadian people can stomach this, then democracy is really in danger."

Check out these related links:

arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) PM says he did not sign ad cheques (Feb. 10)
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Letter links ad contracts to Grits
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Keeping track of the scandal du jour

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