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"The Liberal Party is not corrupt" 

(PoliticsWatch posted February 16, 2004) OTTAWA - In a comment reminiscent of Richard Nixon's "I'm not a crook" speech, Prime Minister Paul Martin today said that the Liberal Party was not crooked. 

"The Liberal Party is not corrupt," the PM said while answering questions from reporters in Quebec City. "The Liberal Party very, very much wants all of the facts out on this. And they want those who did it to be punished. And they will be."

Martin's comments come as the sponsorship scandal continues to circle his government after the release of a damning Auditor General's report last week that outlined how $100 million in sponsorship program money landed in the hands of Liberal-friendly ad firms in Quebec that did little or no work. 

It was the fourth time in three days that the prime minister fielded questions, as his handlers embark on a strategy of putting the prime minister in front of the cameras as polls show the party's popular support sank nine points in the past month to 39 per cent.

On the weekend, the prime minister was interviewed by CTV News Question Period and Canada AM and spent two hours taking calls from Canadians on CBC Radio's Cross-Country Check-Up. 

In the latter appearance, the prime minister told a caller that he would resign if the sponsorship inquiries show he had knowledge of wrongdoing in the program. 

"Anybody who is found to have known that people are kiting cheques, that people are falsifying invoices – me or anybody else – should resign," the PM said. 

The PM today said that the anger he heard from callers during the phone-in program resonated with him. 

"I understand that anger," he said. "I am angry myself."

Some professional spin doctors watching this from afar are giving the PM high marks for his approach to this crisis. 

"I think in this context that it is a good strategy because he's really presenting himself to the Canadian public," said Kathie Lynas, a VP with Hill and Knowlton, and a former parliamentary reporter with Global News.

"He's being extremely accessible and saying he's determined to take action to get to the bottom of this stuff and clean things up. I think that he can only win by being that accessible and open about his determination to do something about it."

Martin came to power promising to do things differently and his media availability in the middle of this controversy is in stark contrast to the approach that former prime minister Jean Chretien might have taken. 

Lynas thinks that as risky as the strategy of having Martin out there is, "it would be far riskier for him not to be doing it."

"He has to establish a whole new persona for the government and he started this a long time ago before even all these details came out with the auditor general's report.

"I don't see a major risk at this stage with him doing that."

However, Martin's decision to declare that his party was not corrupt did not win praise from Lynas.

"From a communications point of view, typically what we do is we advise people to speak in the positive instead. It leaves an image, even when you're denying something, it does leave an image in someone's mind.

"I think there are cases where if you really, really want to be definitive you have to sort of get right out there and say, 'No, this is not true.'

"But I wouldn't recommend he continue to say that very often." 

Check out these related links:

arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) PM doesn't remember letter
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Sponsorship firm gave to ministers

arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) Martin shifts spin

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PM's timeline

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PM blames small group of people
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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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