ministers targeted in QP
February 16, 2004) OTTAWA
- With Prime Minister Paul Martin on the road to conduct damage control on the sponsorship scandal, the Conservative Party targeted cabinet ministers in the House of Commons today,
asking them what they knew about the sponsorship program and when they knew it.
Quebec ministers, such as Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew, Industry Minister Lucienne Robillard and Privy Council Minister Denis Coderre were all targets of the opposition.
"The Prime Minister himself said a few Quebec ministers may have known more about the real dealings behind the scandal than he did," said Conservative MP Jason Kenney in the House.
"Who were they? Do they still sit in the cabinet? Could it be the president of the Privy Council with his deep connections with the Liberal organization in Quebec? Could it be the Minister of Health?"
Deputy PM Anne McLellan, who is not from Quebec, was also targeted.
"The Deputy Prime Minister sat on the cabinet's unity committee and its communication committee," said Conservative Leader Grant Hill in the House. "In those positions, she had to have precise knowledge of what was going on with the sponsorship program in Quebec.
"I am asking her specifically, now, when did she know about the sponsorship problem and why did she not speak up?"
McLellan responded by saying that the Liberals were aware of the sponsorship program but were unaware of the seriousness of the problems.
"I think any number of us have been very clear that, of course, as a matter of the existence of the program, we knew there was a sponsorship program," she said. "But did we know the details in relation to how this program operated? No."
Both Coderre and Robillard did not field the questions posed to them about their knowledge. Pettigrew didn't either initially, but responded after prodding from the opposition's supplementary question. He denied any knowledge.
Meanwhile, Martin fielded questions from the media for the second time today, this time in Montreal, including ones about
what his ministers knew about the program.
While the PM said that he has not personally asked his ministers about their knowledge, he said that all ministers were asked about anything that could create a controversy when they were screened by his transition team before they were appointed to cabinet in December.
"I have talked to all of our cabinet at the time they went into the cabinet. They were not talked to by me, but talked to outside people who went through a whole series of questions and everyone of them passed.
"I am very satisfied on the basis of that question."
Jim Armour, communications director for the Conservative Party, says that Martin's decision to put himself out front on the scandal and make daily media appearances is making him the "spokesman for the sponsorship scandal."
"Paul Martin and this scandal are starting to go together like peanut butter and jelly."
Some Conservatives believe that Martin's tour is part of a strategy to get away from questioning in the House of Commons, but Armour says that
after Day 1 of the tour Martin is already facing the same questions from the media that the Conservatives are posing in the House.
"It's even better because in the House he has 30 seconds he can choose to answer the question or not. But if the media are asking him questions, with follow-ups he can't really hide.
"And if you do try to duck and hide, you're out on national TV for all to see."
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