March 17, 2004) OTTAWA
- With his government plagued by Adscam, Prime Minister Paul Martin today promised to restore integrity to government "come hell or high water."
Martin made the comments in a speech to the Quebec City Chamber of Commerce. Martin has reached back into the past and taken out his "come hell or high water" catch phrase, which he used to great effect when he was finance minister and pledged in 1995 to meet his stringent deficit-reduction targets.
"No one can promise that there will never again be government abuse," the PM said. "But I can promise that it won't be for a lack of vigilance.
"And I can promise that any hint of abuse will be swiftly investigated. That those responsible for these misdeeds will be held accountable for their actions. That those who report these misdeeds will be protected."
To that end, the prime minister announced that next Monday the government will introduce legislation in the House to protect whistleblowers who come forward to report wrongdoing in government, in departments as well as the Crown corporations.
The prime minister also described his personal reaction to the scathing Auditor General's report released last month that found the misappropriation of nearly $100 million from the sponsorship program.
Martin said he was "deeply troubled" upon reading it.
"But I remember thinking at the time: 'This is unacceptable. The only solution is to make all this the first test of our commitment to change the way things are done in Ottawa.'"
Martin then contrasted his approach to the approach of his predecessors.
"There were two options. We could have swept it all under the rug and acted as though nothing had happened. This is a political tactic that people are only too familiar with.
"The other option was more difficult. It was to take the bull by the horns, admit that there was a problem and deal with it. We chose the more difficult path. It meant taking quick and decisive action in order to put in place the necessary investigative mechanisms as well as tough financial controls to avoid this type of abuse."
According to Martin the bureaucracy, the political process, and Ottawa in general "will never be the same" as a result of the action he has taken.
"No longer will the key to Ottawa be who do you know. We are going to condemn to history the practice and the politics of cronyism."
Speaking with reporters later, Martin was reminded that he was a senior member of the Liberal government for the past 10 years and
was asked why he didn't take action to prevent such practices during that period. Martin said he was not in a position to act at the time, but now things have changed.
"Now that I'm prime minister I'm now in a position to put forward proposals that I made previously."
When Martin was asked who was responsible for cronyism, he blamed the system, saying that "it goes back for decades."
In interviews with PoliticsWatch, the opposition was sceptical about whether the prime minister could deliver on his promise to end cronyism.
NDP Leader Jack Layton questioned Martin's commitment and asked, "Can the leopard change his spots?"
Layton said he favoured whistleblower protection, but would like to see it not just in legislation, but in contracts with public servants.
He noted that despite his promises to clean up the Crown corporations and end cronyism, Martin still has close ties with many corporate lobbyists and consultants.
"He's got upwards of eight lobbyists that have either been in or still are in his core team," explained Layton. "If he were serious about this he'd clean up his own room first. People who point their finger and try to clean up other people's room before they clean their own don't get the kind of respect that someone who starts at home would receive.
"My recommendations to Canadians is look at what Paul Martin has done more than what he
Conservative MP Jason Kenney was also skeptical. Kenney described the speech as a pre-election, "desperation move" launched because Liberal Party polling "is showing that Canadians aren't buying his line that he wasn't in Ottawa for the last 10
"He's now become the white knight of government reform when his leadership campaign was run out of an Ottawa lobby
"This is a prime minister that likes to talk the talk, but not walk the walk."
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