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We know where the bodies are: MP

(PoliticsWatch posted March 10, 2004) OTTAWA -  The vice-chair of the Commons committee examining the sponsorship scandal said today that the committee could prepare a report as early as the end of this month that could be able to lay some blame for the scandal.

"I think we already know, in terms from the Auditor General's report, where some of the so-called dead bodies are," said Liberal MP Marlene Jennings. 

"When the Auditor General says there were checks for contracts that were made up after the fact - for instance between Crown corporations in order to move money through against the Financial Administration Act - we know where the bodies are."

According to Jennings, the committee has heard "more than sufficient information that would allow us to prepare an interim report" that would explain how the sponsorship program should have operated.

She said based on that, a report could establish where there are holes in the checks and balances.

"In fact that's why you've seen dismissals on the part of at least one head of a Crown corporation by the government.

"That doesn't mean that we've discovered the answers. What it means is that we've been able to establish at least one thing and the one thing is that ministerial responsibility, as it now is defined is insufficient to ensure that this doesn't happen again."

Prime Minister Paul Martin has said he won't seek a new mandate "until sufficient light has been shone on this issue of sponsorship." 

One opposition MP on the committee reacted angrily to Jennings' comments and said that it is obvious that some Liberals on the committee are being guided by the Prime Minister's Office. 

"I can feel that the fix is in," said Conservative MP Vic Toews, who was a former Attorney General for Manitoba.

"Marlene Jennings doesn't make gratuitous statements about these kinds of things unless they are going in a very specific direction.

"And it's becoming very clear to me where that direction is going: They're going to whitewash this scandal with an interim report, effectively shut down the inquiry and call an early election." 

Toews said Jennings' comments are a "flagrant breach of Parliamentary etiquette" because the committee was not consulted. 

"We haven't even scratched the surface of the evidence that needs to be considered in this matter," he said. "I am so disappointed at her saying this. I'm so cynical about the process." 

Toews suggested that the Prime Minister's Office has been trying to influence the committee from the get go, by having three parliamentary secretaries on the committee. Under Martin's reformed government, parliamentary secretaries have the status of Privy Councillors. Committee members and Liberal MPs Joe Jordan, Walt Lastewka and Shawn Murphy are all parliamentary secretaries. 

Also on the day before the committee held its first hearings, the Globe and Mail reported that six of the nine Liberals on the committee attended a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office. The MPs had been called earlier in the day by Ruth Thorkelson, the Prime Minister's deputy chief of staff for parliamentary affairs. Thorkelson also acted as chair of the meeting. 

Two of the Liberal MPs who attended the meeting told the Globe there was nothing sinister about it and that it was just a chance for them to talk about how the committee will work.

A committee source tells PoliticsWatch that so far only one witness has shed any light on problems with the sponsorship scandal. Ran Quail, who was the former deputy minister at Public Works, told the committee last week that former minister Alfonso Gagliano and his staff bypassed the normal chain of command and had a "direct relationship" with the bureaucrats who ran the sponsorship program.

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