Monday, January 14, 2008

No need for Harper to delay on Mulroney inquiry

Let's get on with the inquiry into those fat envelopes of $1,000 bills Brian Mulroney took from shady German businessman and fixer Karlheinz Schreiber.
And into why Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn't act on allegations and documents Schreiber sent to him in March - more than six months before the scandal re-erupted.
Harper has accepted the need for an inquiry. And he says he'll accept the framework set our in recommendations by special advisor David Johnston last week.
But he wants to wait until a Parliamentary committee completes its hearings into the affair, which could drag out over months.
If the issue was just about Mulroney's dealings with Schreiber between 1992 and 1996 - the $225,000 in cash the former PM admits taking in hotel rooms - you could make a case for waiting. The committee might discover information that would help the inquiry. And there's no need for haste. Mulroney is long out of politics and there are few implications for anybody in public life today.
But while those dealings are Johnston main issue, he also believes the inquiry should answer questions about the role of Harper and his senior staff.
It's riskier to wait for answers to those questions. The minority government could fall at any time and Canadians would be asked to choose whether to continue Harper's time as prime minister.
There's been much speculation about when that might happen. Commentators disagree on who would benefit from an early election. The poll results aren't encouraging the Liberals or Conservatives to take risks.
But an election could still happen. It would be better for both Harper and Canadians if the inquiry were done by then.
Johnston ruled out a wide-ranging inquiry into all the allegations stretching over a 15-year period.
That's reasonable. While there are disturbing issues, any inquiry would become unwieldy, costly and probably inconclusive.
Instead, Johnston decided 17 questions needed answering. The first 14 all related to Mulroney's business dealings with Schreiber in the 1990s. The last three are about Harper's inaction after Schreiber sent hundreds of pages of evidence to his office last March.
It's worth going through Johnston's questions.
What were the business and financial dealings between Schreiber and Mulroney?
Was there an agreement reached by Mulroney while still a sitting prime minister? If so, what was that agreement, when and where was it made?
Was there an agreement reached by Mulroney while still sitting as a Member of Parliament or during the limitation periods prescribed by the 1985 ethics code? If so, what was that agreement, when and where was it made?
What payments were made, when and how and why? What was the source of the funds? What services, if any, were rendered in return for the payments?
Why were the payments made and accepted in cash? What happened to the cash; in particular, if a significant amount of cash was received in the U.S., what happened to that cash?
Were these business and financial dealings appropriate considering the position of Mulroney as a current or former prime minister and Member of Parliament?
Was there appropriate disclosure and reporting of the dealings and payments?
Were there ethical rules or guidelines which related to these business and financial dealings? Were they followed?
Are there ethical rules or guidelines which currently would have covered these business and financial dealings? Are they sufficient or should there be additional ethical rules or guidelines concerning the activities of politicians as they transition from office or after they leave office?
What steps were taken in processing Schreiber's correspondence to Prime Minister Stephen Harper of March 29, 2007?
Why was the correspondence not passed on to Harper?
Should the Privy Council Office have adopted any different procedures in this case?
The entire cases raises troubling questions about way politics and money interact in our system. Failing to seek answers would signal our acceptance of dubious practices.
And failing to seek them as quickly as possible raises a whole new set of questions.
Footnote: No one knows how long the Commons committee could take to complete its investigations. The chair said he'd expected work to continue at least until the end of February, but there's no certainty given the potential for new evidence and political wrangling. It could Harper hopes to influence the committee to cut its inquiries short.


Anonymous said...

This is an elegant political trap for the opposition that provides a firewall for the Harper government. If the opposition parties choose to turn their inquiry into a muckraking session aimed at the Conservatives, Harper is able to decry that fact and point to the opposition delaying a genuine inquiry to get to the bottom of the situation. If the opposition parties wrap up their investigation quickly, Harper contains the scope to the $225,000 and prevents the opposition from trying to tie this to the Conservatives through the parliamentary committee. I can't say I blame the Prime Minister - as part of the Conservative faction that broke off and formed the Reform party in the 1990s as a reaction to the excesses of Mulroney, it has to be extremely irksome to have his political opponents try to tar him with those sins.

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