Thursday, June 12, 2008

Duelling federal officials

The PCO volleyed back at the RCMP on Wednesday night through a PCO spokesperson:
"A PCO spokeswoman said Wednesday evening that the Mounties never contacted the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister's Office 'about any security concerns with respect to Mr. Bernier or his relationship with Madame Couillard.'"
Here's the quote from the PCO:
"The Privy Council Office has not been informed by the RCMP about any security concerns with respect to Mr. Bernier or his relationship with Madame [Julie] Couillard at any time," Privy Council spokeswoman Myriam Massabki said Wednesday evening.
So after the hearings on Tuesday where the RCMP all but confirmed that they had informed the PCO of Ms. Couillard's background and committee members took them as saying as much, the PCO has suddenly become all chatty about the matter. Waiting until Wednesday evening, after the non-partisan day on the Hill yesterday, they decided that they apparently need to get some distance from the Couillard tentacles that became evident with Minister Fortier's aide's resignation. And it's a funny thing, them doling out information all of a sudden, since we've heard nothing from the PCO, PMO or Harper beyond the "personal life" line until this piece of information.

And it comes from a PCO spokesperson, because neither the PM nor any of his Ministers are of course willing to submit themselves to answering any questions. We're left with the PCO dangling information in the dead of night like this with the intent of shaping public opinion.

This denial still seems rather hard to believe and unless there's some testimony under oath from PCO or PMO staffers, it will remain unexamined by anyone. So I think I'll wait to see the whole story unfold before the committee. The little speech that RCMP commissioner Paulson gave on Tuesday afternoon when he sought out the media just doesn't seem to jive with the PCO's implication that the RCMP was sitting on this information or did nothing with it.

Further, the statement from the PCO does not preclude the possibility that the RCMP informed some other government department such as Foreign Affairs, Public Safety or CSIS instead. We shall see.

The Globe this morning has more on the saga picking up on La Presse's report yesterday about the "mushrooming" of the Bernier-Couillard matter beyond Foreign Affairs to possible influence-peddling at Public Works. Of significance in this report is the sourcing of the new details, including these "federal officials":

Federal officials confirmed that Julie Couillard raised the Kevlar Group's bid on a project worth an estimated $30-million in Quebec City with former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier and ex-public works adviser Bernard Côté.

The role of Kevlar in the saga appears pivotal, with sources saying last night that it was Philippe Morin, a co-chair of Kevlar, who introduced Mr. Bernier and Ms. Couillard to one another in April of 2007. The then-industry minister and Ms. Couillard ended the evening with drinks at Mr. Bernier's hotel, Ms. Couillard said.

These people are clearly not obeying the Harpie cone of silence rules, giving the story air in this way. Confirming that $30 million dollar projects are now in the conversation. And Kevlar, according to Jean Lapierre yesterday, is to speak publicly today about their involvement with Ms. Couillard. Expect denials, by the way.

Also noteworthy in the Globe report is this source on Couillard's attempt to influence Cote:
A federal official said that Mr. Côté and Ms. Couillard met through a joint acquaintance, and that Ms. Couillard had raised her plans for real-estate development in the Caribbean.
And this curious description of Bernier:

Another federal source said Mr. Bernier seemed anxious in recent months to introduce Ms. Couillard to his cabinet colleagues, pointing to a dinner date Ms. Couillard and Mr. Bernier had with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and his wife, Valorie, at Hy's Steakhouse in March.

The source said the couples spoke about ordinary things, such as sports and children, but that Mrs. Day was left with a less-than-favourable impression and that her "woman's intuition" made her skeptical of Ms. Couillard.

Very strange that we are getting details of such a dinner and perceptions by Mrs. Day. Is it surprising that Mrs. Day wouldn't like Couillard? No, not in the least. But I'm not sure why someone is telling us this. The implication from this source is that Bernier was under some kind of pressure to introduce Couillard to cabinet colleagues. And given Ms. Couillard's past, that's something that needs to be followed up.