Well, that’ll teach a girl to plan a leisurely afternoon of running background checks on the beneficiaries of the recent flurry of federal appointments. Sorry, Google, I’ll have to take a raincheck. When the Gomery signal flashes in the sky, we have to follow.
Slowly but surely, the room is filling up. The gallery was given very short notice of the press conference, so the turnout is surprisingly robust, considering. It’s not like there’s much else happening, other than that aforementioned flurry of appointments, but still. When it comes to Gomery—in fact, the whole sponsorship scandal—I know I’m speaking for at least a few of us reporters when I say that the very name sends me into a state of twitchy catatonia, which has nothing to do with any sympathy for the former Liberal government or any of those Quebec ad firms, and everything to do with the fact that this was the story that devoured Canadian politics for nearly four years. So many thousands and thousands of words, and yet it’s apparently still not over.
Just got a copy of the decision – I’m not even going to pretend to be able to read it in the thirty seconds before the presser is scheduled to start, but the key word is “bias”—and the reasonable apprehension of thus. That’s what the court has concluded, insofar as Gomery’s treatment of the former PM, and that is what his spokespersons and lawyers—but not, sadly, the man himself—will be talking about in just under a minute.
I have to wonder what Judge Oliphant is thinking right now. This isn’t exactly a rousing confidence-booster as far as inquiring into the actions of former prime ministers.
And we’re off. At the dias for Team Chrétien: Senator Jim Munson, former Chrétien chief of staff Eddie Goldenberg, and Chrétien’s lawyer, whose name I managed to miss. Sorry about that. I was trying to get the diabolically counterintuitive earpiece to fit over my shell-like ear, and eventually gave up. I hate those things SO MUCH.
Eddie Goldenberg takes over, and begins with a hearty thanks to the lawyers for all their good work. Chrétien is in Europe, he notes, presiding at a conference for former heads of government, and is very happy with the “total vindication.”
He doesn’t want to be partisan, but the Gomery report unnecessarily did “huge damage” to the reputation of a “great institution” (the Liberal Party).
As for the $50 million that the inquiry cost, it was “money badly spend.”
He hopes this can “turn the page” for all of us, and undo some of the damage done to reputations, particularly Pelletier’s.
Oh, this is going to go over well; Goldenberg brings up yet another former prime minister, Paul Martin, and suggests Martin owes Pelletier, at least, an apology. You can’t hold grudges forever, so show some grace and class, and say you’re sorry.
Finally, Jim Munson wraps things up by noting that Chrétien is “very happy in Stockholm”—and who wouldn’t be, really? What hurt him most, he says, was the “small town cheap” crack, which he saw as denigrating not just Chrétien, but all rural Canadians. Which is a bit of a stretch, but it’s his day, after all.
First question: CBC’s Julie Van Dusen, who wants to know what exactly it was that bothered Chrétien, other than, you know, everything. Answer: You know, everything. Oh, and they can’t give his exact words upon learning of the decision, but he was very, very pleased.
Canadian Press wonders if “Eddie” is suggesting that Martin apologize to Chrétien as well as Pelletier, but Goldenberg sidesteps that; he is most particularly concerned with Mr. Pelletier, who has had a particularly rough time.
CanWest’s Juliet O’Neil wonders if this means that everything that came out of the Gomery inquiry should be disregarded, and Goldenberg sort of says yes, but not explicitly so. The factual findings should be set aside, yet, the judge ruled on what was in front of him. Did anything of value come out of the report? No, not really, according to Goldenberg. Much had already been uncovered by the Auditor General—and the rest has now been thrown into doubt by the finding of bias. He just wants this to go a little way towards restoring some of the faith that Canadians have lost in government, the democratic system, and presumably the Liberal Party, although he restrains himself from saying that.
Bob Fife really, really wants to know how Chrétien reacted—how did he feel? Did he do a jig? Curse a jovial blue streak? Strangle a passing protester? Sadly, none of that comes out. He was “very happy,” as was Aline—not so much for them, but for the country. Oh, and Jean Pelletier.
An interesting question, and one I’ve been musing over since the story broke: what does this mean for future inquiries? Especially, say, one into a former prime minister that is just about to get underway? This was just a bad public inquiry, notes Munson. It went off track. That doesn’t mean that a future inquiry wll suffer the same fate. Goldenberg notes that it highlights the importance in choosing the right person for the job.
Yeah, I have to think Justice Oliphant is going to want to read every word of this ruling.
Global’s Hannah Boudreau wonders, if the whole report is “null and void” now, what are Canadians to think? That’s up to Canadians, says the lawyer. The decision sets aside the facts—the first phase of the report—and, as Goldenberg points out, slightly impishly, the current prime minister has “thrown out” much of the second phase.
Has anyone been in touch with Pat Martin or Pierre Poilievre, by the way? I’m worried that this may do untold emotional damage, given their ardent and—at least until now—unshakeable devotion to the former judge, and his eponymous report.
More questions about Pelletier. Somehow, an apology from Paul Martin—a public apology—might help him in his battle against cancer.
Hey, it’s Colleague Wells! He wants to know if Paul Martin, who is still in the House, at least according to the seating plan, can remain silent to the Canadian people, given what a fiasco the Gomery report has seemingly turned out to be. “That’s not why I’m here,” says an enigmatic Goldenberg.
Oh, now we’re getting existential: Was there ever really a sponsorship scandal? Yes and no. Man, if there wasn’t, I want four years of my life back.
Nobody seems to know if the government will appeal the ruling – but Jim Munson gets ten out of ten for political opportunism at its finest by referring to the “green shift” while suggesting that it may be time for *another* sort of shift. Blame shifting, for instance. As for the Liberal Party – it’s time to move forward. Would that include jumping in a time machine and going back to, say, 2002 with a copy of this ruling? Because that’s not exactly forward, but I’ve got to think that it’s exactly what Paul Martin is longing to do right now.
And now it gets a little meta. According to the lawyer, the judge found that Gomery was overly concerned about the media. We all tut tut solemnly
Tonda McCharles gets the last question – and it’s a good one. What will the party say next time Stephen Harper demands that they give back the “missing” $40 million, which I guess isn’t missing after all, since that was part of the findings of fact that this ruling has set aside. Munson suggests that the Conservatives might want to pay more attention to the in and out scandal.
And with that, it’s over. Forever? I wish, but somehow, I doubt it. The story that would not die will survive to fill the headlines for another day.
One last tidbit, before I forget: Word is that Gomery isn’t yet prepared to comment on the decision – and yes, he’s been asked. Apparently, he wants to talk his lawyer first. If he’d been that circumspect during the inquiry, we wouldn’t be here today, but at least someone has learned something from this whole ordeal.