May 11, 2004) OTTAWA
- With a possible federal election looming, it appears the Commons committee investigating Adscam has ended the testimony phase of its hearings.
The Liberals used their majority to pass a motion to meet behind closed doors for the rest of this week and "synthesize" the evidence to date in "an attempt to prepare an interim report on the evidence."
With the committee not scheduled to meet during next week's break week and rumours circulating around Ottawa that Prime Minister Paul Martin will call an election next weekend for June 28, the committee hearings are now likely over until after an election.
The prime minister had said earlier this year that he would not send Canadians to the polls until "sufficient light" had been shone on the sponsorship scandal. But after almost three months of testimony and over 40 witnesses, many often contradicting each other, it is still not clear who is responsible for the problems involving the $250
million sponsorship program.
Yesterday, two key figures in the scandal - former program
executive director Charles Guite and Groupaction president Jean Brault
-- were charged and pleaded not guilty to six counts of fraud
totalling nearly $1.9 million.
But the committee has been unable to determine who allowed or ordered Guite to funnel millions of dollars to a small group of Quebec ad agencies for little or no work.
And 90 witnesses on a list compiled by the firm KPMG for the committee have not been heard, including some key witnesses such as numerous advertising agency executives, political aides to Martin and former prime minister Jean Chretien and the two Liberal PMs themselves.
"By virtue of this motion this is tantamount to putting a stake through the heart of hearing any more witnesses before the committee," said Conservative MP Peter MacKay.
MacKay said the Tories would have supported a motion to prepare a synopsis of the evidence to date, but were not willing to stop testimony and meet in-camera for the rest of the week.
The committee spent most of today debating numerous amendments to the motion to prepare an interim report. It appeared at one point that a consensus between the Liberals and the opposition parties had been reached
when Liberal MP Joe Jordan proposed amending the motion to remove the words "prepare an interim report."
Jordan put forward the amendment by agreeing with some opposition members that it is unlikely that any report with conclusions and recommendations could be prepared by the end of this week.
The MPs broke for 10 minutes and huddled, but eventually the opposition parties decided not to go along with the amendment, arguing that meeting in-camera for two days would serve "no purpose" when key witnesses still need to be heard.
Bloc MP Odina Desrochers argued that the motivation of the Liberals for wanting to suspend testimony was purely electoral in nature.
"If Liberal members want to be honest, please tell us you want to table a report before the election," he said.
Then he issued this challenge
to the Grits.
"I have a message to the Liberal majority - trigger the election. We'll settle the sponsorship scandal on the ground."
But Liberal MP Marlene Jennings, who is vice-chair of the committee, accused the opposition of crying wolf in suggesting the Liberals were trying to ram a report through before a federal election.
"If we had removed this amendment and had listened to witnesses all this week and if we decide to listen to witnesses all of next week do you know what the story would be from the opposition next Thursday at 5:30? It would be that the Liberals are shutting this down because we are going to an election," she said.
"Their claim has been the same for the last six weeks."
Jennings said the opposition parties don't want testimony to end because they have failed in their efforts to use the committee to tar the Liberal Party.
"They had two objectives right from the start. One: Link Paul Martin, the prime minister, directly to the sponsorship (scandal). Well guess what? They failed on that.
"The second one was to make Canadians believe that $100 million had gone missing. Guess what? They failed on that, too. The Auditor General herself said the money didn't go missing. We know exactly who got it and how much they got. The question was, did they earn that money."
What form, if any, an interim report will take is not known. But Liberal MP Shawn Murphy, the MP who tabled the motion to cut off testimony for now, offered a hint when he argued in favour of the motion this morning.
"In the halls we hear we don't know who's responsible," he said. "Well we do know who's responsible. The person responsible is the minister - the minister of the day."
He also held former public works deputy minister Ran Quail responsible in part.
"The biggest thing we know is that the deputy minister didn't have the tools and procedures to his disposal to deal with the situation. He should have said, 'No, minister. We're not going to do it that way.'"
Conservative MP Jason Kenney said Murphy and the Liberals are looking for a scapegoat.
"They clearly need to point the finger at somebody. Somebody's got to be the fall guy. Ran Quail is a convenient one. And I imagine if they push out a report this week it will also include (former public works minister Alfonso) Gagliano and Chuck Guite.
"Clearly Ran Quail didn't do his job properly or completely, but he was virtually a bit player in this whole process."
Late this afternoon, the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc members on the committee issued a joint news release to announce they will be holding a press conference tomorrow at 10:00 AM to comment on "the probable Liberal shutdown of the committee. "
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