March 9, 2004) OTTAWA
- It was a combative day in the House of Commons today that saw Interim Conservative Leader Grant Hill call Prime Minister Paul Martin a "weasel" during question period.
Hill made the insult in response to an answer the prime minister gave regarding the release of confidential cabinet documents.
In the wake of Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report on the sponsorship program Martin and former prime minister Jean Chretien made the extraordinary decision to make all relevant cabinet documents regarding the sponsorship program public. Normally, such documents are withheld from public view for 30 years.
However, the Globe and Mail reported this morning on a meeting between an executive with one of the ad firms involved in the scandal, Groupaction, with the cabinet committee on communications in July, 1998.
No documents related to Groupaction's appearance were included in the release of cabinet documents.
Government officials told the Globe the documents regarding the Groupaction executive meeting were not made public because they related to newspaper advertising, not the sponsorship program.
Today in the House, Martin confirmed the official's position.
"The motion called for all cabinet documents pertaining to the sponsorship program. That is what was done," he said, adding that if the Public accounts committee wanted to see the documents it could pass a motion doing so.
To which Hill responded, "What a weasel, Mr. speaker."
House Speaker Peter Milliken calmly rebuked Hill.
"I do not know what the Hon. Leader of the Opposition was referring to, a weasel, whether it was the answer or somebody else, or somebody," he said. "But I think he does not want to use language that would be inappropriate and perhaps he could refrain from that suggestion."
Martin never responded specifically to the weasel comment, but later he criticized the opposition for their continued questioning on the sponsorship scandal in the House.
"It is passing strange that on a day in which the Secretary General of the United Nations comes to this House, and in a week in which we are sending troops to Haiti, that not one time can the opposition make any reference to the fact that our men and women are going off to defend this country," the PM said.
Conservative MP Peter MacKay then countered" "It is pretty sad when the prime minister of Canada hides behinds the brave troops of the Canadian forces to avoid accountability in the House of Commons."
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