Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Let the nitpicking continue

1. Gotta say, I agree with Diane Francis on her Mulroney "nitpicking," on the point that Mulroney failed to pay GST on his cash. As Ms. Francis writes, without proof of any relationship between Mulroney and Thyssen, a foreign company, and without any records whatsoever, the possibility that he did work domestically remains. And with it, the implications for GST.

While this may seem like a trivial matter to many, when it comes to former PM's, their actions speak for us all. And especially those PM's who have most unfortunately sent a terrible message to those who trade in the underground cash economy. As in, if it's OK for a Prime Minister, then why not for me? That people are receiving a message of validation for their own transgressions from the public exposure of Mulroney's untaxed Schreiber cash (for six years and not until Schreiber's arrest) is another big aspect of this story.

2. Some people are continuing to miss the point on the Mulroney testimony and in our 24 hour news cycle, are losing patience with its sexiness. Too bad. Here's one of them:
At the end of the day, we're talking about a relatively piddling $225,000 that didn't come from public funds, being a private business transaction between Mulroney and Schreiber. Mulroney says he emphasized to Schreiber that he could not lobby the government of Canada. I believe him.
Is that all we're talking about? Andrew Coyne provided a needed reminder of the bigger picture with the bigger questions that remain unanswered:
Let’s get a few things straight off the top. There are three sets of events about which we need answers. The first has to do with the circumstances surrounding the payments in cash Mulroney admits to having taken from Schreiber after he was prime minister, that is from 1993 on: what he did for the money, why he took it in cash, why there are no records of it anywhere, why he went to such elaborate lengths to conceal it, and so on.

The second has to do with a number of contracts for government business for which Schreiber was paid millions of dollars in secret commissions by his German clients in the 1980s -- not only Airbus, but Thyssen and MBB: how those contracts were won, and what Schreiber did with the money, and whether the first had anything to do with the second. In particular, there is the question of Schreiber’s relationship, financial or otherwise, with several members of that group of Tories centred around Mulroney, going back to the days of the 1983 convention.

Each of those is significant, and troubling, in itself. They remain so, quite apart from whether anyone can connect the two -- that is, whether the payments that we know Mulroney received from Schreiber after he was prime minister were in consequence of anything he did for him while he was prime minister. This third scenario is the one that gets everyone excited. It is, to be sure, the most significant question, in the sense that if it were true, it would be the most serious possible outcome.
That's important stuff that deserves to be vetted by a public inquiry. It will cost money, yes. But we don't shrug our shoulders and ignore these things because they're inconvenient or we're lazy.

3. And nice try, former Mulroney speechwriter L. Ian MacDonald, but David Johnston is not tasked with whether or not there should be an inquiry. He has been asked to frame the terms of reference. The inquiry is a go. Here are Johnston's instructions, which seem to be necessary at this moment for people to be reminded of given the efforts of the L. Ian MacDonalds to the effect that Johnston can recommend that there be no inquiry:
Therefore, Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, pursuant to paragraph 127.1(1)(c) of the Public Service Employment Act, hereby appoints to the position of special adviser to the Prime Minister, David Johnston of St. Clements, Ontario, as Independent Advisor, to hold office during pleasure, for a term ending on January 11, 2008; and

(a) specifies the duties of the Independent Advisor as to conduct an independent review of those allegations respecting financial dealings between Mr. Schreiber and the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, P.C., and to submit to the Prime Minister by January 11, 2008 a report in both official languages, which shall

(i) make recommendations as to the appropriate mandate for a public inquiry into those allegations, including the specific issues that warrant examination, under the Inquiries Act,

(ii) state whether the Independent Advisor, in the course of his review, has determined that there is any prima facie evidence of criminal action; in that case, the report shall make recommendations as to how this determination should be dealt with, and what should be the appropriate mandate and timing for a formal public inquiry in those circumstances, and

(iii) make recommendations as to whether any additional course of action may be appropriate;
The rest is about expenses, pretty much. "Any additional course of action" in part (iii) would mean "additional" to a public inquiry. Not instead of a public inquiry.

4. Another interesting aspect of that MacDonald column was a bit of news about Junior MacKay. MacDonald tries to inform us of how Schreiber came to understand that the letter Elmer MacKay was helping Schreiber with would help Schreiber with Harper and holding off his extradition. MacDonald offers a possible explanation of how Mulroney came to be implicated:
Then how did Schreiber find out about it? Elmer MacKay might have told him. MacKay had asked Mulroney, the next time he spoke to Harper, to see how his son Peter was doing as foreign affairs minister. After the Harrington visit, in mid-August last year, Mulroney assured MacKay his son was in the PM's good graces. And that's probably how it got back to Schreiber.

This is what undoubtedly annoyed and spooked Harper, that a generous private gesture had somehow become part of an accusatory affidavit reflecting on the integrity of his office.
Oh yeah, that sounds right...not. This explains nothing about why the letter came to be drafted or who linked it to extradition and the Harper meeting. Or why Schreiber claims to have had that understanding.

What does a letter stating that Mulroney and Schreiber are on good terms have to do with the elder MacKay finding out how his son is doing with Harper? Just bizarre. But if this is the story that someone will be telling at a public inquiry, can't wait. Was this all just a misunderstood brouhaha about Junior MacKay's insecurity? Was the PM so peeved that Junior got word that he was in Harper's "good graces" that he'd call a public inquiry on Mulroney because his information perimeter had been breached? I mean, come on...