Harper picks ex-separatist to lead
investigation of Liberal-era polling
[PoliticsWatch updated 4:50 p.m. April 11, 2007]
|Senator Michael Fortier and former PQ
cabinet minister Daniel Paillé.
OTTAWA — The
Conservative government's plans to launch a review of public opinion
research of past governments got off to a rocky start on Wednesday.
Public Works Minister Michael Fortier announced at a
press conference on Parliament Hill that the government had
appointed a former cabinet minister from Quebec's separatist Parti
Quebecois, Daniel Paillé, to head an investigation that will
focus mainly on the polling practices of the previous Liberal
But the press conference, which got off to a rocky start because of
logistical problems, was dominated by questions to Fortier about
whether the Conservatives were merely conducting a witch hunt of the
former Liberal government and questions to Paillé about whether he
was still a separatist.
Paillé will take six months to review documents related to public
opinion research practices from the period of 1990 to 2003. The
Liberals were in government for 10 of those 13 years.
He will also take another look at issues related to Chapter 5 of the
Auditor General's 2003 report. That particular chapter has been
closely examined in Ottawa for three years now because it included
the findings that led to the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship
scandal and mentioned some concerns about polling. This included the
finance department receiving five reports verbally from Earnscliffe,
the Ottawa firm which was home to many of former prime minister Paul
Martin's closest advisers.
In 2005, David Herle, Martin's election co-chair who once
worked at Earnscliffe, and Terrie O'Leary, who worked for
Martin at finance, appeared before the public accounts committee
where they were grilled for two hours about polling and other work
Earnscliffe did for finance.
On Wednesday, the Liberals accused the Tories of using taxpayer
money to conduct a political "witch hunt."
"The Auditor General conducted an identical examination on this three years ago and found the government was managing public opinion research in a transparent manner and with adequate
controls," said Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez.
"Not only is this government doubting the word of Canada's Auditor General, but it has appointed a separatist to do the
But Fortier told reporters the Conservatives are only fulfilling an
election promise and he said the review will not focus primarily on
the Earnscliffe contracts.
Fortier's press conference was mired by logistical problems.
When the Conservatives first announced the press conference it was
originally to be held at the National Press Theatre. The
Conservatives and Prime Minister Stephen Harper usually avoid using
the theatre to hold press conferences as the Parliamentary Press
Gallery controls who asks questions there.
Late on Tuesday, reporters received an email announcing the location
had been changed to a small room on Parliament Hill, perhaps to
accommodate a large blue billboard that was used as the backdrop.
When reporters arrived for the press conference on Wednesday the
audio set up was not working and reporters had to place their
microphones and recording devices on the podium and floor where
Fortier was to speak.
One prominent Ottawa bureau chief approached two of Fortier's staff
members and asked who was responsible for the lousy set up for the
When other reporters complained to Fortier's staff about the absence
of audio, they blamed House of Commons technicians for the problems
and said, "It's not our fault."
Fortier began his press conference by apologizing to reporters for
the problems, but later when asked who in Ottawa should be
"nervous" about the investigation, the minister joked,
"Who's nervous? Maybe the House of Commons technicians."
Meanwhile, Paillé was asked over and over to answer whether or not
he was still a separatist.
He refused to answer, saying it was like asking someone about their
Fortier defended his pick, saying he had the "perfect
professional profile" for the job.
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