met, but did not direct Guite
April 6, 2004) OTTAWA
- Former prime minister Jean Chretien's chief of staff today testified that he met with the executive director of the sponsorship program once every two months, but no political direction was given in those meetings.
Jean Pelletier told the Commons Public Accounts committee that his meetings with Chuck Guite were to "find out if the program was operating."
Pelletier testified that at these informal meetings recommendations were made to Guite about which events should be sponsored, but said "never did we take any final decision on any particular activity" nor did he appoint a specific advertising agency.
"I am not aware of any political direction for the administration of the program," said Pelletier.
Pelletier's pronouncement on political direction does not square with Prime Minister Paul Martin's comments in February that there had to be political direction on the file.
Speaking with reporters in Barrie today, the PM was asked about Pelletier's denial of political involvement.
"I don't know what the facts are," said Martin. "My reference was really made in reference to the Crown corporations. How the Crown corporations got involved was something that I raised in my earlier comments.
"But the fact is I don't know what happened and that's the purpose of the inquiry."
Pelletier testified that he was surprised with Martin's characterization of political involvement.
However, opposition MPs pressed Pelletier on why the chief of staff for the prime minister would meet regularly with a mid-level bureaucrat such as Guite.
"I think there was no more important file for the prime minister than the unity of the country," he explained, adding later that the PMO acted as a "sounding board" for Guite on sponsorships.
"I would have seen the janitor if it would have helped the cause of Canadian unity."
Conservative MP Jason Kenney, however, didn't find this answer credible.
"You expect us to believe this was just business as usual? There was no political interference when you spoke with (Guite) on behalf of the prime minister?"
"This is my truth," responded Pelletier. "Perhaps not the one you'd like to hear. Sorry. But this is the truth."
In his testimony from 2002 released last week, Guite said that he was given permission to "bend" advertising rules from the Federal Provincial Relations Office in the run up to the 1995 Quebec referendum.
But Pelletier denied that the PMO had requested the bending of rules and said he was not aware of Guite's dealings with the FPRO.
He also testified that the PMO never became involved in the administration of the program, with one exception in 2000 when newspaper are articles and "street rumours" were circulating suggesting mismanagement in the sponsorship program.
He said to protect the prime minister politically he got involved and was instructed to discuss the problems with then public works minister Alfonso Gagliano.
Gagliano ordered an internal audit and when the results were given to him later in the year he informed Pelletier that it found the problems were not criminal.
"I think it's the only involvement the prime minister ever had in the administrative aspect of the program," Pelletier said.
NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis became frustrated with Pelletier's testimony, at one point asking, "How long have you been rehearsing, Mr. Pelletier, to be evasive here at this committee?"
But Pelletier said he had nothing to hide.
"I'm not here to protect anyone," he said. "I'm not here to say anything other than the truth that I know."
In other committee developments, the committee announced that it will present a status report next Wednesday based on testimony heard up until April 2. This report will be made public, but presented in the House.
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