May 12, 2004) OTTAWA
- Prime Minister Paul Martin is breaking his promise to Canadians to get to the bottom of the sponsorship scandal before calling a federal
election and that could dog him on the campaign trail, opposition MPs charged today.
A day after the Liberal MPs on the Public Accounts committee used their majority to end testimony into the sponsorship scandal, MPs from the Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois and NDP held a press conference to blast the government for putting an end to testimony before a likely election call next weekend.
"It's Paul Martin's decision when to call an election," said Conservative MP Jason Kenney. "We're simply saying if he calls it now he's breaking his word to Canadians that he's getting to the bottom of this.
"Paul Martin is breaking his word because this is the only inquiry in town. His members are shutting it down and we do not yet have answers to the critical questions.
"That is something he is going to have to deal with on the campaign trail should he call an election."
Shortly after Auditor General Sheila Fraser tabled her report criticizing how $250 million was spent on raising awareness of the federal government after the Quebec referendum, Martin said he would not go to the polls until sufficient light had been shone on the scandal.
But after nearly three months of testimony from 40 witnesses, it is still not clear who gave political direction, if any, to bureaucrats operating the sponsorship program.
This week fraud charges were laid against Chuck Guite, the former executive director of the program, and Jean Brault, the president of the ad agency Groupaction, for a series of contracts related to the Auditor General's 2002 report and advertising and communications work on the gun registry.
Both men pleaded not guilty.
The Liberals on the committee said they wanted to put a hold on testimony for this week to meet in-camera to see if the "collective will" existed to create an interim report on what the committee has heard to date.
But the committee has only heard from approximately one third of the more than 100 witnesses on a list compiled for it by the firm KPMG.
The opposition argues that the Liberals would like to use an interim report that would be a "whitewash" of the scandal.
NDP MP Pat Martin said the Liberal MPs on the committee would love nothing more than to table a report that finds there was no political interference to take to the doorsteps during an election campaign.
"We don't want the end of this story to be the couple of rogue bureaucrats theory," said Martin. "It isn't fair to go to the polls now with people leaving the impression it was a couple of rogue bureaucrats and a couple of corrupt advertising contractors, which is the image that's dangling out there.
"I don't believe senior bureaucrats break every rule in the book unless somebody directs them to do so and that's what people need to learn about."
The three opposition parties are considering the possibility of tabling a dissenting
report if the Liberals on the committee move ahead with an interim report.
The Liberals on the committee have suggested that the role of the committee is to examine the issue of ministerial responsibility and what government structures failed.
But the NDP's Martin said only the Public Accounts committee can speak to the issue of whether there was political direction, noting that the RCMP can only examine whether fraud was committed.
"And our job isn't just to do some academic exercise and say 'Ministers are supposed to be accountable and in this instance they weren't,' which is what we expect the Liberals will write in their report," said Kenney.
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