March 8, 2004) OTTAWA
- A birthday video greeting from 2001 from a Liberal cabinet minister to an ad executive linked to the sponsorship scandal was
the talk on Parliament Hill today.
The Opposition says a video greeting from Privy Council President Denis Coderre to
Groupe Everest president Claude Boulay shows the cozy relationship between the Liberal cabinet and the ad agencies at the centre of the scandal.
The videotape was obtained by Montreal's La Presse and has been
airing all day on French-language news channels.
"The TV appearance, the happy birthday greeting just give the lie to this notion that somehow the government on the inside wasn't aware of what was going on," said NDP Leader Jack Layton.
"Clearly they were aware. They were very good friends with the very recipients of taxpayers' money and then evidently some of these same companies turned around and gave it back the Liberal Party."
Groupe Everest has donated $77,000 to the Liberal party since 1993. It has also reaped $55.7-million in federal sponsorship contracts since 1993.
It is also not the first time Coderre's relationship with Everest and Boulay has been discussed in the House.
In 2002, Coderre was criticized after it was discovered he lived in a condominium owned by Boulay in 1997 after he and his wife separated. However, no conflict guidelines were broken as it was before Coderre was in cabinet.
Also in 2002, the Bloc obtained a March 2002 e-mail from Coderre, when he was secretary of state for amateur sport. In the e-mail he demanded that the amateur sports department give Everest a $500,000 advertising
"The company that the secretary of state wants to hire is Everest," the
At the time Coderre denied he exerted pressure on public servants to award the contract to organize a series of conferences to Groupe Everest, saying he was only trying to speed up the consultation process.
"A secretary of state does not award contracts," he said . "You know my style. I was pushy. I wanted to make sure that we would start those consultations because we didn't have any sports minister for 20 years."
Today, Coderre, who described Boulay as a "true friend," called the video revelation a "non-issue."
"I made a little video and that's it," he said. "That was a joke. So give me a break.
"Does that mean because I'm a minister I will turn into a monk - I can't talk to anybody?"
Prime Minister Paul Martin, who said he wasn't aware of serious problems with the sponsorship program until the May 2002 Auditor General's report, is also acquainted with Everest's Boulay. He worked as the Quebec communications director on Martin's unsuccessful 1990 leadership campaign.
"In the 1990 (Liberal leadership) campaign, he helped in the beginning," Martin said last month. "But he quit the campaign. He did not finish the campaign with me. He started with me, but there were differences."
Last month, the Opposition also released a 1994 memo written by Martin's aide when he was finance minister offering "suggestions from myself and the minister regarding the proposal for our 1994 Retail Debt Strategy."
The memo said that it "makes the most sense" for Gingko/Groupe Everest to develop the strategy "rather than another ad agency."
"In addition, Gingko/Groupe Everest should also serve as project manager/co-ordinator for the public relations firms which are appointed," the memo, which was written before the sponsorship program was created, added.
Layton said today that he believes the prime minister was aware of the problems with the sponsorship program long before he says he was.
"Mr. Martin tries to pretend he knows nothing about it," said Layton. "It's not credible and eventually that truth will come out.
"He wants to hold an election before the truth comes out so that he can try to flummox the Canadian people. I don't think the Canadian people are going to be flummoxed."
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