Thursday, October 14, 2010

The minister who keeps changing his story

Bit of a problem for Harper and his Natural Resources Minister, Christian Paradis. On Wednesday of last week, Paradis said this to the House of Commons:
Mr. Speaker, on January 19, 2009, I attended a fundraiser in the riding of Bourassa. I understand that the member opposite is not happy about such activity in his riding. Fundraising events are indeed held in Quebec ridings. At no time was there any discussion about government business. It was strictly a fundraising event.
So, no discussion about government business. A blanket statement that made a firm representation to the House of Commons. 

The next day, one of the persons who was at the January 2009 fundraiser disagreed with Paradis' representation of events:
...Sauve said Thursday that the pair did discuss the contract at the fundraiser in the Montreal-area riding of Bourassa.

“The minister’s full of s---,” Sauve told The Canadian Press. “He did speak to me about that contract. He congratulated me, actually.

“A good four, five minutes. That there was a huge need for work up there, that it was nice to see Quebec companies. You know, basically just chit-chat, but he did talk about it.

“When I heard him say he didn’t talk about the contract yesterday — why? You talked about it blatantly.”
Now, a week later, Paradis is changing his story:
...a spokesman said Wednesday that the minister now recalls listening to a businessman lay out his gripes with the federal contracting process at the event.

The about-face came after construction company owner Paul Sauve, who organized the fundraiser, claimed that he heard Paradis talking about government contracts with Joseph Broccolini of Broccolini Construction.
Here are the Paradis and Broccolini versions of events, for the record. The issue at hand is the Commons version of what Paradis said above versus these (also from CP link):
"Broccolini initiated the conversation by outlining his company’s activities and then proceeded to explain his grievance with the federal procurement process," Walker said in an email.

"Minister Paradis answered that the procurement process was independent and that all procedural grievances should be made at the administrative level and not political. After this answer, the conversation moved to a more general discussion about politics that lasted a few minutes."

Broccolini had a similar recollection.

"We discussed politics in general. I don't remember precisely the subjects other than that he liked Italian food, it was more the minister who was talking than us, as you can expect," Broccolini said in an email.

"The only question I had time to ask the minister was about a project for which we submitted a proposal to a public bid process and that was cancelled afterwards ...

"I just wanted to know if he was aware of the reason for the cancellation of the (request for proposals). The minister suggested I call his cabinet and someone there could perhaps ask the people at Public Works what the reason was. It was clear that the minister did not know and did not want to talk about it. We didn't discuss any future projects or future work with the federal government."
The minister is now admitting that his initial statement to the House of Commons was not correct. Standing up in the Commons to say what was said above would have opened up many new lines of questioning.

The discrepancy here is why Paradis has been and will likely continue to be the subject of resignation calls. We should be hearing about this contemptuous turn of events once the House of Commons returns.