Mulroney left Harper no choice, Jeffrey Simpson

Written by  //  November 14, 2007  //  Canada, Geopolitics  //  1 Comment


By demanding a public inquiry, Mulroney left Harper no choice
November 14, 2007

… If Mr. Mulroney has his way, the inquiry will be vast, allowing him not only to refute the allegations but to see squirm in the witness box all of his tormentors since the first breath of the Airbus affair: politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, police officers and journalists – in short, anyone who’s had a hand in the saga.
Mr. Mulroney intended to write a book about the original allegations against him that were apparently settled in a deal with the federal government under Jean Chrétien, and subsequent allegations made by Karlheinz Schreiber that became public through Mr. Schreiber’s co-operation with certain media and his lawsuit against the former PM.
The public inquiry will supplant that early book and, Mr. Mulroney believes, vindicate him fully and discredit a whole bunch of people who sullied his name. At the top of the list will be Mr. Schreiber, who has managed to avoid extradition to Germany, where he is wanted on a variety of offences.
But Mr. Mulroney, his Irish dander up, has other people in his sights – which means that, if the terms of reference for the public inquiry are as large as he wishes them, the mother of all inquiries is at hand. … His name will be in the news for months and possibly for years, as allegations are rehashed, evidence is adduced and lawyers do what lawyers do: claim and counterclaim while the cash register keeps ringing. Things might be said in testimony that could create bad headlines, even if they are subsequently refuted. And who knows if anything will come from the RCMP’s announcement yesterday that it will review new allegations to see whether an investigation should be opened?
Last week, having previously rejected a public inquiry, Prime Minister Stephen Harper neither ruled one in nor out, preferring, instead, to ask a third party to advise him on the best course of action. On being abandoned by the PM, Mr. Mulroney, who might have thought the Conservative government would defend him, forced Mr. Harper’s hand.
By demanding a public inquiry, Mr. Mulroney left Mr. Harper no choice but to create one, the only remaining issue being the terms of reference that the yet-to-be-named third party will propose. In the space of less than two weeks, therefore, Mr. Harper has shifted from (a) no public inquiry to (b) maybe a public inquiry to (c) yes to a public inquiry.
… The Mulroney defence/explanation probably will run as follows: I had nothing to do with Air Canada’s original decision to purchase Airbus aircraft. The company board made that decision. The allegations that I took money for influencing that decision – allegations contained in a letter sent to Swiss authorities and mysteriously made public – were demonstrated to be false. I sued the government and won a settlement that exonerated me. Case closed.
But I did make a business deal to be paid for lobbying on behalf of Mr. Schreiber’s interests after I ceased being prime minister. That Mr. Schreiber had been paid for lobbying on behalf of Airbus, and the deal I subsequently made with him, were separate matters. But because of all the innuendos that lingered from the Airbus affair, and Mr. Schreiber’s sleazy reputation, I wanted to keep this transaction out of the public domain, as a deal between two private citizens. I did receive money from him, $300,000, and subsequently paid tax on it. Case closed.
Of course, the shortest distance between the points of this narrative of events is not likely to have been a straight line. …
Mr. Mulroney once said that dealing with Mr. Schreiber had been one of his biggest mistakes. A public inquiry often takes on a life of its own, and heads in directions unforeseen at the beginning. Time will tell whether demanding a public inquiry was an even bigger mistake by Mr. Mulroney than dealing with Mr. Schreiber – or whether the inquiry will allow Mr. Mulroney, as he hopes, to set the record straight and so demolish before the bar of history the allegations and insinuations against him.

One Comment on "Mulroney left Harper no choice, Jeffrey Simpson"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson November 16, 2007 at 2:34 pm ·

    16 November
    If previous inquiries are any guide, perverse fallout is a-comin’
    … It is too soon to know what effects the Mulroney inquiry will have, but we can be sure, if previous inquiries are any guide, that some of the fallout will be perverse.
    In part, the fallout will depend on the terms of reference and, of course, the person who presides. Mr. Mulroney wants the widest possible terms, because he has apparently decided to turn the inquiry into a massive platform from which to expose what he believes has been the campaign against him by political and media foes, bureaucrats, lobbyists and, of course, Mr. Schreiber.
    He could have offered a simple, public explanation for the questions that have been raised about his conduct vis-à-vis Mr. Schreiber. But he opted for the inquiry and will live with the consequences.
    As for Mr. Schreiber, he has already fulfilled his ambition to remain in Canada and escape extradition to Germany, where his disbursements of money have made him a wanted man by German authorities. This result was precisely the one he sought. Another result is how asinine Canadian laws are to have allowed him to avoid extradition for eight years – and counting.
    Maybe something good can come from this miserable affair before the inquiry even starts – provided someone reviews how Mr. Schreiber parlayed the laws into an eight-year delay. Lawyers, judges and justice ministers might wish to study how this happened, so the law ceases being such an ass.

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