February 18, 2004) OTTAWA
- Prime Minister Paul Martin returned to the House of Commons for the first time this week and put up a combative defence of himself, members of his inner circle and some of his ministers, all of who the Opposition tried to link to the sponsorship scandal.
Martin, who in recent days was "mad as hell" about the ad scam that saw $100 million paid in commission to Quebec ad firms linked to the Liberal Party, was mad as hell about the
Opposition attacks today and used the word "despicable" more than once to characterize the Opposition's line of questioning.
Those questions centred on Martin's past support of one of the ad firms, Groupe Everest, his current communication director's previous work related to the sponsorship program, and what Quebec cabinet ministers, including himself, knew about the misappropriation of funds.
The Conservative Party raised the issue of a 1994 memo written by Martin aide Terrie O'Leary when the PM was at finance that recommended Groupe Everest to conduct work on the government's 1994 Retail Debt Strategy. This was three years before the sponsorship program was launched.
The memo begins, "Just wanted to outline some suggestions from myself and the minister regarding the proposal for our 1994 Retail Debt Strategy."
"We agree that it makes the most sense for the strategy to be developed by Gingko/Groupe Everest in collaboration with the market researchers, rather than another ad agency," O'Leary wrote. "In addition, Gingko/Groupe Everest should also serve as project manager/co-ordinator for the public relations firms which are appointed."
In the House, Tory MP Peter MacKay asked the prime minister, in light of the memo, "Does the Prime Minister expect Canadians to believe his special request for the addition of Groupe Everest was not politically motivated and that with all those connections to his office he was not aware of its actions until 2002?"
The prime minister said that he would be happy to have that memo tabled, but said he and his aide at the time "agreed with the suggestion from someone else."
He also said the bid was tendered on a "competitive basis" and "there was a list of other companies that we wanted to see on that list."
NDP MP Bill Blaikie went after Mario Lague, Martin's communication's director who was the subject of a front-page National Post story today that reported he was the senior public servant in charge of the government's communications strategies during most of the sponsorship and advertising scandal.
"The fact of the matter is that this is a person right in the Prime Minister's Office who should have known what was going on," said Blaikie.
But Martin gave a strong defence of Lague, accusing Blaikie of "deliberately setting out to destroy" his reputation.
"When he deliberately seeks, by association, to damage somebody else's reputation, a public servant who is not here in the House capable of defending himself, it really is despicable," an angry PM said.
Conservative MP Diane Ablonczy was also the target of Martin's counterpunches when she asked him about whether he had asked any of his Quebec cabinet ministers if they were aware of wrongdoing in the sponsorship program. The PM accused her of "Quebec bashing."
"What is very despicable is when the Hon. member singles out a province and then the rest of his
(sic) colleagues stand up to applaud the fact that they are engaged in Quebec bashing," he said. "Let us not have any more of that here in the House of Commons."
Today marked Martin's first
time in the House since Thursday. He has spent everyday since
then off Parliament Hill granting interviews to national and
regional media outlets. Since the PM's media blitz began, the
Liberals have fallen another four per cent to 35 per cent,
according to an Ipsos-Reid poll. This figure is the party's
lowest showing since 1992.
While some Liberals have
expressed concern off-the record to Hill reporters about the
PM's media strategy backfiring, Martin continued to appear in
front of the cameras today and granted an exclusive interview
with Global News.
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