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Letter links contracts to Liberals

(PoliticsWatch posted February 9, 2004) OTTAWA - On the eve of the release of Auditor General Sheila Fraser's long awaited report that will provide details of the controversial government sponsorship program, Conservative MP John Williams today released an anonymous letter he received nearly two years ago suggesting sponsorship contracts were given to companies that the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party was indebted to from the 1997 federal election campaign. 

According to the document, which is marked "extremely urgent - sensitive info," the Liberal Party's Quebec wing "arranged for the contracts to cover off unpaid PAST bills from Group Action for partisan work Group Action did in the last general election campaign." 

Fraser's report is expected to focus on $100 million in sponsorship program contracts that were given to politically connected ad firms in Quebec. 

"It certainly seems to be something that the person seems to know exactly what he's talking about," said Williams of the letter while speaking to reporters after question period. "Therefore we gave it some credibility." 

Williams said he gave the RCMP all the information after it was given to him in 2002. 

"I really have no feedback from the RCMP other than we know that they have been investigating the Liberal Party in Quebec." 

Meanwhile, the Conservatives continued to position themselves to hold Prime Minister Paul Martin accountable for the sponsorship program, a program that was created and operated while Jean Chretien was prime minister and cancelled by Martin in one of his first moves as PM. 

In question period Conservative MP Leon Benoit said that tomorrow's report "will not be nice to the prime minister because he signed the cheques and approved the spending." 

"When this prime minister was finance minister through this whole sponsorship mess, was he the eye of the needle through which the money passed or was he the funnel which distributed money to his political friends?" Benoit asked. 

However, the government is being tight-lipped about its advanced response to the report. 

"This prime minister and this government takes the Auditor General's views very, very seriously," said Treasury Board President Reg Alcock in the House. "Out of respect for the Auditor, we'll wait until her report is public tomorrow and then we'll respond." 

Williams, however, said it will be difficult for the prime minister to avoid taking responsibility for the scandal. 

"It's a Liberal Party, it's a Liberal government. He represents a riding in the province of Quebec. He, like all the other Liberal MPs, will have to wear this." 

Meanwhile, calls for the recall of former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano, who oversaw the sponsorship program, continued on Parliament Hill. Gagliano is currently Canada's ambassador to Denmark and the government's responses to questions about his future in recent days have not been a ringing endorsement. 

"The House can be confident that this government will take all steps necessary to preserve the reputation of Canada and our diplomatic integrity abroad," said Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham in the House. 

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