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Friday, January 11, 2008

Kudos to Harper in His Handling of the Johnston Report and Calling a Public Inquiry

Mr. Harper strikes the right balance in the ordering of a Public Inquiry into the Schreiber/Mulroney Affair. Wait until the Ethics Committee has done its work and then get Dr. Johnston to deal more succinctly with the terms of reference of the public inquiry. That way we can focus on the real issues uncovered in the Ethics Committee work instead of going wandering into a dark room hoping to bump into the right issues that need to be inquired.

Sr. Johnston says “I (he) believe the inquiry can be efficient and focused, without the need for numerous interveners. The inquiry can and should steer clear of partisan political positions since the advance of such positions is not the purpose of the inquiry and would be contrary to the public interest.”

We know from Dr. Johnston’s report to the Prime Minister under his terms of reference that he believes Mr. Mulroney was not under oath when he appeared before the Ethics Committee and he left many unanswered questions regarding his cash payments from Mr. Schreiber.

Here is a damaging quote from Dr. Johnston’s report in that regard:
“In my work to fulfill my mandate under the Terms of Reference, I have concluded that the concerns of many Canadians arose from the fact that a former prime minister took large cash payments from someone now implicated in questionable transactions, and whose extradition for various charges has been sought and obtained by the Government of Germany. The suspicions raised by these cash payments were compounded by Mr. Mulroney’s silence on the matter. As Mr. Mulroney acknowledged before the Ethics Committee, taking those cash payments “created an impression of impropriety”. As the stories about the cash payments became more and more widely reported, and as they remained unanswered by Mr. Mulroney himself, suspicions among Canadians intensified. Mr. Mulroney told the Ethics Committee that the circumstances that led to this “impression of impropriety” amounted to a serious error in judgment on his part. Mr. Mulroney also acknowledged that it had been an “unwise decision” to remain silent on these matters.”

Dr. Johnston says that “one important element of the inquiry – perhaps the most important elements – was to let Canadians hear from their former prime minister about these suspicious dealings with Mr. Schreiber. …the concern is that the transactions involving cash payments that created an impression of impropriety could reflect adversely on the high office of prime minister.”
That the rub Dr. Johnson…you got it!

I go after Stephen Harper pretty hard in the Blog but when he does the right thing I try to be equally aggressive in my praise. This is on eof those latter incidences. The quick and wise decision by the Prime Minister to go to a public inquiry but after the Ethics Committee is finished and to once again refer the terms of reference for the inquiry to Dr. Johnston is very wise. That wisdom becomes very self-evident if one reviews Dr. Johnston's excellent report and thoughtful recommendations.

Johnston outlines the inquiry questions, issues and their relevancy in his report. The inquiry process is a finder of fact – not a trier of fact. That is for a Court deal with. The Ethics Committee is neither. Its work is pretty much done but if it has anything to add or uncover based on the Johnston report it should do so expeditiously. Otherwise since it can’t lead, and sure can’t follow – it should do the right thing now and get out of the way.