March 11, 2004) OTTAWA
- The Conservatives are suggesting that documents tabled with a Commons committee today by a Public Works whistleblower "draws a direct line"
between Prime Minister Paul Martin and the Adscam.
Among the pages of documents that Public Works official Allan Cutler tabled with the committee was a Jan. 26, 1996 memo he wrote questioning a $909,000 amendment to a contract with Groupe Everest for work for the finance department on the retail debt strategy when Martin was finance minister.
"I cannot recommend the amendment for the following reasons," Cutler wrote, listing reasons, including that the contract was covering a "completely retroactive situation" and that Groupe Everest "will presumably obtain a commission on the sub-contract without having done any work."
In his testimony, Cutler listed
this contract as one of the first contracting irregularities he
saw beginning in 1994.
Groupe Everest had been previously recommended for the retail debt strategy by then Martin aide Terrie O'Leary in a May 1994 memo. O'Leary's memo states that the recommendation were "suggestions from myself and the minister."
"Will the prime minister finally admit that he knew about the genesis of the sponsorship scandal," demanded interim Conservative Leader Grant Hill in the House of Commons today.
Martin, who has denied knowledge of any wrongdoing with regards to sponsorship spending prior to 2002, was not in the House today.
But later in the day, Martin was asked about the suggested link while in London, Ontario.
"I think this really does show the desperation on the opposition side," he said. Martin said the memo suggests "the exact opposite" of what the opposition alleges and that Martin and O'Leary wanted to see the process opened up.
"What the memo says to the department is 'Okay, we're a new government, we've inherited Everest-Ginko, but we want to see the process opened up.' If you read the bulk of the memo, (you'll see) she says here are a whole list of firms we would like to see who will bid on this."
A closer look at the memo shows that O'Leary and Martin suggested that the bidding be opened "with regards to Ontario," and listed firms such as Vickers and
Benson. Vickers and Benson is also a firm known to be Liberal
friendly and, like Everest, was cited in Auditor General Sheila
Fraser's report on the sponsorship mess.
The memo also states that
O'Leary eliminated other firms from bidding that were
recommended for the Canada Savings Bond Market Research Program
because they were "small and relatively modest firms in
their abilities." O'Leary's memo does not elaborate or
provide evidence of the modest abilities of the firms she wanted
Martin accused the opposition of conducting a "drive-by smear" and that they completely misread the memo.
The PM also distanced himself from Groupe Everest president Claude Boulay, who was hired to work as Martin's Quebec communications director on his 1990 leadership campaigning, but left the campaign before it began.
Another memo tabled by Cutler regarding the same amendment also involves another Martin aide, Karl Littler.
"Karl Littler, the legislative assistant to the prime minister, then minister of finance, received a memo in 1995 specifically outlining the authorized breaking of the rules and the raising of a contract by almost $1 million to Groupe Everest," Tory MP Peter MacKay alleged in the House. "That memo is direct evidence that the prime minister knew.
"His chief of staff knew, his legislative assistant knew, ministers in the government knew. The
prime minister was clearly in the know on this ad scandal from the very beginning."
But Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan denied that the memo suggested any wrongdoing.
"In fact, this memo deals with nothing more than the ordinary annual advertising in relation to Canadian savings bonds," she said.
"I would think that it is hard to make the kinds of assertions or allegations that the Hon. member is in relation to a matter that we know is an important annual advertising campaign to encourage Canadians to buy Canada savings bonds."
Speaking to reporters later, MacKay described the documents tabled by Cutler as "one of a cadre of smoking
guns" that "draws a direct link" to Martin's staff.
"I can't imagine a legislative assistant, or a special assistant or a chief of staff keeping this information from their minister, who was Paul Martin at the time," he said.
"More to the point, this particular memo talks specifically about elevating the contract by close to a million dollars, which is highly irregular practice."
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