March 31, 2004) OTTAWA
- It was a feisty Prime Minister Paul Martin in question period today that joined in the newest Liberal game in Ottawa these days -- attacking the chair of the Public Accounts committee investigating Adscam.
Martin went out of his way to attack John Williams when he was asked about whether he was trying to punt issues such as Adscam and the Arar inquiry by calling an election.
"I would like to ask the leader of the opposition if his definition of the way to respond to the democratic need is by asking the chairman of the public accounts committee to systematically obstruct its work?" the prime minister said.
Martin and the Liberals are now embarking on a risky strategy by openly attacking the only one of his tools introduced to shed light on who was responsible for the misappropriation of millions of dollars from the sponsorship program that is functioning.
It appears Martin is beginning to paint the committee in a negative light so he can later justify calling an election and ending the
investigation. But he could be handing the Conservatives an election issue on a silver platter: The prime minister put the brakes on the committee because the Liberals have something to hide.
But whether it is in the House or at committee, the Liberals are now openly questioning opposition members and the chair of the committee. And PMO spin doctors are now regular attendees at committee hearings.
The Liberals are exerting pressure on the committee to expedite the release of 2002 secret testimony of sponsorship program executive director Charles Guite. Guite's testimony, however, is two years old and only deals with three contracts related to Groupaction, not the entire sponsorship program or the involvement of the Crown corporations.
However, opposition MPs on the committee believe the Liberals on the committee will use this testimony for an interim report in lieu of live testimony from Guite so the prime minister can use such a report as proof that the committee has made progress in its investigation before he hops on the campaign trail. The committee put off a decision on releasing that testimony early this evening.
The thinking around Parliament Hill today was that Martin will call an election on April 18 for May 25. However, this April 18 date would effectively kill the committee's work before Guite, who is scheduled to appear on April 22,
appears, and may explain why the Liberals are so adamant about
Guite's testimony being released.
The approaching election was more palpable today judging the mood of the Liberal benches in question period and the release of new, warm pre-election ads from the Liberals that focus on their secret weapon - the prime minister.
"Parliamentary and judicial investigations underway," reads a caption in one ad that features the PM talking to a group of racially diverse Canadians about the sponsorship scandal.
However, the prime minister's
concern about the investigations are sarcastically being
characterized as reassuring by some
And Conservative Leader Stephen Harper believes that Martin will pull the plug on both of these investigations.
"There's too many revelations coming forward from the scandal," said Harper after question period. "I think he wants to shut the process down and move on to other issues and an election call may the only way to do it."
He also predicted that the Liberals would cancel the judicial
inquiry which does not plan to begin hearing witnesses until the
"Their history on these things is as soon as they get a chance they shut inquiries down," said Harper, who noted the closure of the Somalia inquiry in the mid 1990s. "If the Liberals are re-elected we will never get the truth on the sponsorship scandal."
He said the prime minister's behaviour in the House today indicates that he would behave in the same manner of his predecessor.
Harper said if Martin calls an election it would be the first time that a prime minister ever called an election "not because he wants to run on something, but because he wants to run away from something."
NDP Leader Jack Layton said that it is clear that an election call is imminent within the next two weeks.
"We're ready," he said. "We've got our plane. We've got our candidates. We've got our bank loan. The sooner the better."
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