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"I was not aware"

(PoliticsWatch posted March 18, 2004) OTTAWA - Former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano contradicted Prime Minister Paul Martin in his appearance before the Committee investigating Adscam today, saying he was unaware of any political direction regarding the sponsorship file. 

"I'm not aware of any political direction of the sponsorship file," he said. "I did not give any political direction." 

Last month, the prime minister said during a news conference that there was another "small group" outside of the public service that was responsible for the sponsorship fiasco and that there "had to be political direction." 

"There is a range of other people - a small group again - who were giving out the orders," the PM said. "And those people we don't know who they are."

Gagliano was minister of public works from 1997 until early 2002, when most of the problems regarding the sponsorship program occurred. 

In his opening statement, Gagliano laid blamed for the misappropriation of up to $100 million to advertising firms on the people below him. 

"My experience as a minister tells me, that no matter how much I tried, I never had the control and power over my departments that would have given me the ability to answer for all that went on within them," he testified. "That was most certainly the case with the sponsorship programs."

As for ministerial responsibility, Gagliano explained it this way: "A minister does not run his department; he has neither the time nor the freedom to do so."

He then offered a hint as to who he may have thought was running the department. 

"When appointed to head a department, a minister is instructed to consider his deputy minister as principle advisor in exercising his new functions," he said in reference to Ran Quail, who was deputy minister at public works at the time Gagliano was the minister. 

"I did not derive any benefit from these programs; it was in my personal best interest to ensure that they were run correctly."

Gagliano went further and offered the Commons public accounts committee advice on how to prevent a sponsorship fiasco from happening again by giving ministers the power to "appoint and dismiss the high level executives of their departments." 

"I also realize that many of you may balk at giving individual ministers so much power. But you cannot have your cake and eat it, too; you cannot say to a minister that he is personally responsible for everything that goes on in his department and yet deprive him of the tools that any other responsible person would insist upon having." 

Ironically, Gagliano left cabinet in 2002 after he became embroiled in a scandal involving one of the agencies he oversaw, the Canada Lands Corporation. Jon Grant, who was chair of Canada Lands Co. for six years, said Gagliano told him in 1999 to hire Tony Mignacca, a Gagliano friend and organizer. At that time Grant said the entire department was run as though it were in Russia or Ukraine, with political staff often trying to influence civil servants' decisions.

Gagliano also said that the sponsorship scandal has damaged him more than anyone else both financially - he lost his post as Canada's ambassador to Denmark following the release of the Auditor General's report - and politically - "it is clear that I cannot be (a Liberal) candidate at this time." 

"I now learn that I should be considered responsible for a fiasco that was not of my doing; it has gotten to the point where the very same people who once voted me in office now believe that I must be responsible, since everybody says I am."

Gagliano was grilled by committee members on his relationship with Chuck Guite, the executive director of the sponsorship program. Gagliano said that Guite was responsible for the program that they only met three or four times a year to discuss advertising. But not the contracting procedure. 

Conservative MP Vic Toews, however, found this relationship troubling. 

"Now, I've been a minister of the Crown and I find this quite remarkable that a person dealing with an area with 14 employees (Guite), of 90,000 employees, comes and says, 'Mr. Minister, can you approve this budget for specific ads?'" Toews asked. 

"Wouldn't the normal practice be to go through the deputy minister and have the deputy minister come and talk to you about that?"

Gagliano, however, said that it was Guite who wanted to meet with him and "if any employee of the department would come and ask to see me, definitely yes, I would see it because I think it's important."

NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis expressed opened scepticism about Gagliano's testimony in her line of questioning. 

"It would seem to me that you're playing with us, Mr. Gagliano. You're making us play a game of Clue and asking questions like, was it Mr. Guité in the laundry room or Mr. Pelletier in the PMO." 

Speaking with reporters later, Tory MP Peter MacKay said that there are too many coincidences about the firms that were receiving contracts for Gagliano's testimony to be credible. 

"To suggest that that kind of money could go missing through raging incompetence, that doesn't wash," he said. 

Even though he said he was unaware of wrongdoing, Gagliano wouldn't hazard a guess of who he believed was responsible for the misappropriation of money, when pressed by Conservative MP Jason Kenney. 

"Mr. Gagliano, you say that you were not responsible. Your former deputy minister says that he was not responsible. Who exactly was responsible?

"You claim that you've been wronged. You may have a tort here against somebody who misbehaved, who committed fraudulent activity under your watch, as minister. Who do you think might have been responsible for this?"

Gagliano hesitated and said that it was the committee's job to come to conclusions. 

"I'm here to tell you exactly what I did and what I know, as a minister. I'm not here to accuse anybody. I think due process, it is important that we do it. So let's find who is responsible. If somebody did something wrong, well, let them pay the price."

Check out these related links:

arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) Unedited transcript of Gagliano's testimony (part 1)
arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) Unedited transcript of Gagliano's testimony (part 2)

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Keeping track of the scandal du jour

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