Friday, November 04, 2005

The Economist:Martin, the inquiry and the ghosts

APPROPRIATELY enough, it was on Halloween that Paul Martin was handed his advanced copy of the Gomery Report into political sleaze. Mr Martin's first action on taking office as Canada's prime minister in December 2003 had been to cancel a controversial programme to promote federalism in Quebec which had turned into a slush fund for his Liberal Party. To try to lay its ghost, Mr Martin appointed John Gomery, a federal judge, to investigate. As expected, his report absolves Mr Martin of any blame, heaping it instead on his predecessor, Jean Chrétien, and senior officials. Opposition threats to bring Mr Martin's minority government down over the issue look hollow. But the “sponsorship scheme”, as it is known, may have done lasting damage to Canada.

Mr Chrétien set up the scheme in 1996 after voters in the French-speaking province of Quebec had only narrowly rejected secession in a referendum. The idea was to promote Canadian unity at sporting and cultural events. Mr Gomery's brief was to look into how the scheme was abused for political ends, and in particular at C$147m ($100m) paid in fees and commissions to a dozen advertising and public-relations firms, most of which found its way into the coffers of the Quebec Liberal Party.

Mr Martin, who was finance minister throughout the scheme's duration, is explicitly exonerated. He welcomed the report, told the police to act on it, ordered the Quebec Liberal Party to repay the C$1.1m Mr Gomery found that it had received in kickbacks, and banned from the party ten individuals, including Mr Gagliano.


Predictably, Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, and Giles Duceppe, of the separatist Bloc Québécois, used the report to attack the prime minister. Jack Layton of the New Democrats, a leftish party which supports the government, accused Mr Martin of continuing the “culture of entitlement”. There has been talk of the opposition trying again to force an early vote. Yet Mr Martin seems likely to escape. Elections in the Canadian winter are disliked by voters. Mr Martin has anyway promised to call one within 30 days of Mr Gomery's final report—on how to avoid such abuses in future—which is due by February 1st. By then, sleaze may have faded in the public mind.


The lasting damage from this sorry affair is to Liberal support in Quebec. Liberal sleaze has helped to resuscitate the Bloc, and its provincial sister, the Parti Québécois. Because the Liberals will probably win few seats in the province, the next election—even if held in the spring—is likely to return another minority Liberal government. The separatists are well-placed to return to power in the province. It would be ironic indeed if the result of the sponsorship scheme turned out to be the break-up of Canada.


At 8:27 a.m., Blogger Jackal said...

I'm afraid darling, but the post is too long and Canada is too remote and its affairs really unexciting... readers exhausted and blog unread

At 8:59 a.m., Blogger Bahar said...

Remote is your uncle (read onkel) and unexciting is your aunt!


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