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MPs vote to probe Earnscliffe 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 6:45 p.m. February 21, 2005]

OTTAWA  —The Commons Public Accounts committee is making a bid to replace the Gomery inquiry as the best show in town as people close to Prime Minister Paul Martin could be called to appear before it soon. 

On Monday afternoon, the committee voted six to five in favour of a Bloc Quebecois MP's motion to examine public opinion research, including the firm with close ties to Martin's inner circle, Earnscliffe. 

Public opinion research was mentioned in the Auditor General's report into the sponsorship program. 

The Public Accounts committee had been investigating the sponsorship scandal last year and was at times a media circus when former cabinet ministers and the former head of the sponsorship program, Chuck Guite, appeared. 

Guite brought Martin into the hearings during his appearance when he spoke about what he described as interference from Martin's office when he was minister of finance on contracts. 

Guite recalled a phone call he received from Martin's former chief of staff, Terrie O'Leary, who said to him that "Paul would prefer." Guite said he asked "Who's Paul?"

"There were many contracts with a local company, Earnscliffe," Guite said. "And I had interference from a minister's office - the finance Department, which was Mr. Martin's office at the time. 

"[They] tried influencing the decision. I think that if someone today would ask through access to information for all the contracts awarded to that company, you would have some surprises," Guite informed the committee and all the reporters in the room. 

O'Leary and the Prime Minister's Office have both denied Guite's allegations. 

At that time, the committee and the list of witnesses who appeared before it was controlled by the Liberals. However, with the Liberals losing their majority in the election that situation has changed and opposition MPs now want to probe further into what Guite told them. 

Bloc MP Benoit Sauvageau said he tabled the motion at the committee on Monday because Justice John Gomery has ruled that public opinion polling is not part of his investigative mandate. 

"Gomery commission said it's not in my mandate," said Sauvageau. "After the clear answer from Gomery, for us it's important to table a motion here to have a clear idea about what's happened."

Sauvageau said Guite's allegations about Earnscliffe is just a starting point. 

The committee's steering committee will now meet to discuss how to proceed, but Sauvageau, who is also a member of the steering committee, said he already has an idea of where to start.

"The first witnesses, I think, (will be) the people who worked at Earnscliffe, people who worked with the minister of finance," he said. "This probably will be the first witnesses, but after we can see." 

The chair of the committee, Conservative MP John Williams, said he too was intrigued by some of the things Guite talked about when he appeared before the committee.

"Mr. Guite had some interesting things to say about Earnscliffe and of course we know they're very closely tied to the prime minister and the minister of finance of the day and sometimes close relationships need examination."

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> Gomery says Earnscliffe outside his mandate

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