February 18, 2004) OTTAWA
- Liberal MPs emerged from their first caucus meeting since discovering the sponsorship scandal has eaten away at their massive lead in the polls to tell reporters that Canadians are concerned about other issues besides the misappropriation of $100 million
in federal funds to Liberal-friendly ad firms in Quebec.
"We're not going to leave any stone unturned in getting to the bottom of this and finding out what happened, why it happened and who was involved," said Deputy PM Anne McLellan. "But beyond that, we have to focus on the future. We have to focus on governing."
McLellan said that she is confident that voters will "get beyond" the scandal, which has sparked outrage from Canadians, including Prime Minister Paul Martin, who repeatedly said in interviews over the past four days that he was "mad as hell" about it.
"You have to focus on the things that matter to people in their daily lives," she said, pointing to such issues as health care, post-secondary education, aboriginals, Canada-U.S. relations and improving the quality of life in cities.
"We all want to talk about those things," she said. "Why wouldn't we want to talk about those things?"
When asked if she would prefer to stop talking about the scandal and focusing on other issues, McLellan said, "sure."
Another cabinet minister said that its not just Liberals that want to move on from the scandal, but voters.
"I believe that we have reacted quickly and decisively, which is what Canadians would want," said Andy Scott, Minister of State for infrastructure. "I believe that we are beginning to hear requests from our constituents that we need to talk about other things of importance in the country."
Liberal MP Joe Fontana said that in the caucus meeting, the prime minister made it clear that he wants to engage Canadians in talking about "the future of the country" and the "important issues."
"He's told Canadians what he's doing (about the scandal)," he noted. "Now he wants to talk about the
"Now we have to start talking about those issues that are important to Canadians."
Liberal MPs also said they are pleased with the way the prime minister has been forthcoming in his media blitz over the past week, which some say has made his the official the spokesman of a scandal.
Pictures of former public works
minister Alfonso Gagliano used to be used as art in news
coverage of the sponsorship scandal, but that has quickly
changed. For example, the National Post and CBC websites have
special pages devoted to the scandal that feature the prime
minister prominently -- not Gagliano.
McLellan says the PM has done a "remarkable" and "unprecedented" job in being upfront about the scandal, including
taking questions from Canadians on open-line phone-in shows.
"He faced that head on. He didn't duck."
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