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Tories target PMO in Adscam 

(PoliticsWatch posted February 19, 2004) OTTAWA - The Conservative Party continued to target the PMO in the sponsorship scandal in the House today via Prime Minister Paul Martin's communication director, Mario Lague. 

Lague was the senior public servant in charge of the government's communications strategies during most of the sponsorship and advertising scandal. He has said he has no knowledge of any wrongdoing while $100 million in sponsorship funds was given to Quebec ad agencies, often for little or no work. 

Auditor General Sheila Fraser has questioned Lague about poor record keeping at the Privy Council Office from 1998 to 2003. He has also admitted having several meetings about the sponsorship program with Chuck Guite, a former public works official at the centre of the scandal.

Today, the Tories dug up a May 17, 2002, Globe and Mail opinion piece by Jonathan Murphy, who was director of research for the Liberal caucus from 1997 to 2001. In that piece, Murphy pointed out that Lague was a member of what he called a politicized government group, the Communications Coordination Group, that he said was often engaged in diverting attention from "negative aspects of the Auditor-General's reports." 

"The CCG, chaired by (former PMO communications director Francois) Ducros, is made up of top Liberal functionaries from ministers' personal staff, along with several of the PMO senior staff and the top communications bureaucrats from the supposedly non-partisan Privy Council Office, this latter group is led by assistant secretary to the cabinet, Mario Lague," Murphy wrote. 

"While the CCG's mandate is supposedly to 'co-ordinate' the government message, in practice much of the committee's time each week is taken up discussing ways to delay or thwart access-to-information requests, and strategies to divert attention from negative aspects of the Auditor-General's reports." 

In the House, Conservative MP Peter MacKay suggested that Murphy's piece showed there existed "the practice of discussing ways to thwart access to information, all in simple terms meaning how to cover up what was going on in the sponsorship scandal."

"My question for the prime minister is: Why has he rehired staff that had intimate knowledge of the sponsorship scandal, just as he has reappointed cabinet ministers with obvious knowledge of what was going on and put them on the council?"

For the second day in a row, the PM jumped to the defence of his communications director and said that MacKay should not "impugn the credibility or attack unfairly" Lague. 

"The simple fact is that if the commission of inquiry wishes to interview Mr. Lague we have made it very clear that they can interview him and they can interview any other Canadian who may have knowledge as to this affair. All they have to do is call him," he added. 

Speaking to reporters after question period, MacKay questioned why Lague was in the PMO and whether the prime minister has asked Lague about his knowledge of the sponsorship program.

"That's the question: Did he make any inquiries or is that reason why he's there because he's so intimately familiar with how these sponsorship programs were working?"

NDP Leader Jack Layton also said he is troubled by Lague's links to the sponsorship file and the PMO. 

"It's a little bit like the old Watergate story. The more you hear, the closer it gets to the top. And I guess we'll be watching the unfolding drama." 

At the top, the PM appears to have accepted the advice of some MPs and spin doctors out of government and clammed up concerning matters related to the sponsorship scandal, answering just three questions in the House today. 

"It's another communications strategy," Conservative Leader Grant Hill told reporters. "How many do we need?

"Telling the truth would be the communications strategy I would like to see." 

Check out these related links:

arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) PM plays down ties to ad exec
arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) Martin launches counteroffensive
arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) MPs want to focus on other issues
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"We have nothing to hide"
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Cabinet ministers targeted in QP
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"The Liberal Party is not corrupt"
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PM doesn't remember letter
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Sponsorship firm gave to ministers

arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) Martin shifts spin

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PM's timeline

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PM blames small group of people
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PM says he did not sign ad cheques (Feb. 10)
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Letter links ad contracts to Grits
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Keeping track of the scandal du jour

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