February 13, 2004) OTTAWA
- Prime Minister Paul Martin today said he doesn't remember receiving a letter in early 2002 from a Liberal Party official urging him to look into rumours of the diversion of sponsorship program funding to Liberal-friendly ad firms.
"I don't really remember this letter," the PM said speaking to reporters in Brockville, Ont., but said that it was a "classic example" of the rumours and newspaper stories he remembers hearing at the time, and "confirms exactly what I said yesterday."
In a dramatic press conference yesterday, the prime minister laid out a clear timetable of what he knew about problems related to the sponsorship program and when he knew it.
The prime minister said that it wasn't until Auditor General Sheila Fraser released her June 2002 report on problems regarding contracts to Groupaction that he
"began to understand that what had occurred went far beyond administrative failures and involved possible criminal conduct."
But today, the National Post released a letter that then-Liberal national policy chair Akaash Maharaj sent to Martin in February 2002 when he was finance minister, requesting a "fact-based reply" to rumours of the diversion of sponsorship money to Liberal ad firms.
Two weeks after the letter, Fraser began her study into Groupaction.
The opposition pounced on the revelation of the letter and the apparent discrepancy in Martin's timeline.
"The Prime Minister despite his denials was made aware of the mismanagement of the sponsorship program two years ago in a letter that came from the Liberal Party policy chair," said Conservative MP Peter MacKay in question period. "True to form, he did nothing."
Bloc MP Caroline St-Hillaire said, "Would the prime minister not agree that the letter was very clear with respect to the sponsorship scandal. Consequently, the prime minister knew since at least February 2002 about it and did nothing. Talk about trust."
Also today, the prime minister said that he does not believe his inquiry creating a civil war in the Liberal Party because all Liberals want to get to the bottom of the scandal.
"Liberals want to know what happened," he said. "Let me tell you, that anybody who has transgressed in this particular matter is going to pay the consequences."
Yesterday in his press
conference, the PM moved to distance himself from the Quebec
file in former prime minister Jean Chretien's government, citing
differing approaches to defending and promoting federalism in
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