Monday, May 25, 2009

Mulroney and the privileges of princes

I wasn't going to write about Brian Mulroney. But the TV coverage of his testimony at the Oliphant inquiry was weirdly compelling.
Mulroney, in his pompous, self-aggrandizing, self-pitying way, revealed more than his own character flaws. His performance showed much of what is wrong with politics.
Mulroney was mostly asked about why he spent a great deal of time with Karlheinz Schreiber, a fixer for arms manufacturers. Mulroney took, on three occasions, envelopes full of $1,000 bills - $225,000 in total. (Or maybe $250,000, or $300,000.)
He said he was supposed to help, in some undefined way, sell military vehicles from a Canadian plant internationally. Schreiber was trying to promote the project on behalf of a German corporation. The plant didn't exist. He never had a contract, or even any written directions or reports. The cash was stashed in safes and a safety deposit box. The money never showed up on his books.
Mulroney didn't declare the income when he got it, or when he says he did the work.
When he did, six years later, his lawyer negotiated a deal with Revenue Canada so he paid tax on half the actual amount he had received as income. (The deal was common, apparently, for Quebec resident who didn't pay tax when they were supposed to and came forward letter. Better half than none, Revenue Canada thought. The rest of us paid proper taxes.)
It was all sordid.
What was also striking was the disconnect between Mulroney's world and the place where almost all other Canadians live.
I met Mulroney a couple of times, and was creeped out. When I was in Saint John, in perhaps 1989, he did an editorial board at the newspaper. There was an advance visit - the security guys wanted the conference room drapes closed, in case of snipers. We'll call when the motorcade is close, the said, and you can wait to greet the prime minister in the entrance.
No worries, I said sincerely. The front desk person was great. She would call me as soon as he arrived.
They explained it didn't work that way. People waited for the prime minister; he didn't wait for them. (I should note that Mulroney charmed everyone as he made his way through the building once he did arrive.) People carry their bags and clean up their messes and tell them how smart they are.
So Mulroney thought it OK, once he had left office, to take envelopes of cash for ill-defined assignments. He should have asked for cheques, he allowed, or deposited the money - even if only to get the interest.
But, Mulroney testified sadly, he had no support staff when he took the first envelope of cash. What could he do? Most Canadians manage their finances without support staff. Not big-time politicians.
In 1996, Mulroney was suing the federal government for $50 million. He was called to given sworn evidence about his relationship with Schreiber.
When lawyers asked about their dealings, Mulroney said they had coffee a few times. Schreiber talked about hiring Liberal lobbyists, he said.
But Mulroney didn't say he had taken envelopes of cash to work for Schreiber. The lawyers didn't ask the right questions, he explained.
As for his tax deal, that wasn't his doing either. Mulroney said he didn't think he had to declare the income until he judged the assignment was over. And when he told his tax lawyer to sort it out, the lawyer negotiated a deal to declare just half the actual income. I didn't know about that, said Mulroney.
Most Canadians know those things. They tell the truth and pay their taxes. They don't have support staff or tax lawyers. They don't get envelopes full of cash. No one tells them how smart they are or carries their briefcase.
Increasingly, too many of our politicians live a life apart. How can they govern for Canadians, when they have forgotten how we live?
Footnote: Whatever Schreiber paid, he didn't get much value for the money. Mulroney says he chatted about the idea of the United Nations buying military vehicles of its own with a few world leaders, but nothing came of it.


set said...

I'm surprised you are complaining.

The entire campaign donation system is a far worse abomination than cash in an envelope. The NDP promised to eliminate corporate campaign donations but that promise never got a line of coverage in any media.

Citizens are going to lose 100 billion dollars in Pirate Power purchases with BCHydro buying power at 12 cents a kwh and selling it at 2 cents. To purchase this travesty the pirate power dudes sent almost 1 million in to the support your local fascist campaign and have managed to add just about every BCLiberal hack starting with Geoff Plante to their payroll.

While I'm sure Gordo has no firm commitments all BCLiberal politicians have an understanding that they will be taken care of when they decide to leave politics. Lucrative speaker fees, board of director appointments, and consulting contracts await the compliant retiring politician.

Mulroney has made millions in this way since leaving politics and it is all legal. Get it. This odious immoral, even treasonous form of corruption is completely legal.

Oddly Corky Evans wasn't recruited Hmm, wonder why.

DPL said...

Lyin Brian just stopped in to have a coffe and the guy forced the money into Brians hands, Never his fault of course. Even the dumbest citizen knows that if some simply gives you money he wants something. Wasn't it around then that they stopped issuing 1,000 dollar bills? Seems they were favourites of drug dealers. I have never seen a 500 dollar bill let alone a 1000 dollar one but lets face it I never went for coffee with such guys. But I do pay my taxes each year.

Anonymous said...

C'mon Set,

All Gordo and his hacks want to do is to make BC the best place on earth. You shouldn't be so hard on their altruistic examples - they're doing it for you!

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