I’m not quite sure what set off my friend Paul Wells today, but the ruling of Federal Court Judge Max Teitelbaum has not “utterly discredited” the Gomery inquiry, nor is it the “total vindication” that Jean Chretien’s acolytes are predictably claiming.
Judge Teitelbaum has not ruled that there was no sponsorship scandal, that senior members of the Liberal party were not intimately involved in it, or that the Gomery inquiry was not a valuable exercise in exposing and describing both.
As I read the reports on the ruling, it has weighed in on exactly one question: Gomery’s finding that Chretien and Jean Pelletier bore some responsibility for the scandal, even if they did not directly participate or know of any illegal activity. Specifically, this passage:
Since Mr. Chrétien chose to run the Program from his own office, and to have his own exempt staff take charge of its direction, he is accountable for the defective manner in which the Sponsorship Program and initiatives were implemented. Mr. Pelletier, for whom Mr. Chrétien was responsible, failed to take the most elementary precautions against mismanagement.
Whether Judge Gomery was right or wrong to take such a view, I will not presume to say. But neither did Judge Teitelbaum. He set that particular finding aside, not on its merits, but on the grounds that Judge Gomery’s comments to the media (“small town cheap,” the program was “run in a catastrophically bad way,” etc.), while the inquiry was still under way and after, gave rise to “a reasonable apprehension of bias” toward Chretien and Pelletier.
That’s a defensible ruling, but a limited one. The report, in its entirety, has not been discredited. A part of it has been set aside.
SHORTER COYNE: All Teitelbaum found was that Gomery said some things outside the hearing room he shouldn’t have. He didn’t make any judgment about the hearings themselves, or Gomery’s findings.
UPDATE: I have now had the chance to read the ruling itself. My initial conclusions stand.
UPPERDATE: The official Liberal Party piles on:
[W]e are extremely pleased that former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his former Chief of Staff Jean Pelletier have been completely cleared by the Federal Court.
Though Judge Gomery’s report itself stated that there was no evidence Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Pelletier were involved, today’s decision by Judge Max Teitelbaum of the Federal Court removes any lingering hint of impropriety…
If you say so, I guess.
COURTDATE: This one looks set to run and run:
Gomery said Thursday he did not consider himself to have been biased in any way.
“When you’re seriously criticized by a judge who points out errors and inappropriate comments that you made, it’s not pleasant — to read about the mistakes that you have made or might have made,” Gomery told CBC News. ‘It is particularly disappointing that I am held to be, appear to be, a biased judge.”
CBC’s Rosemary Barton says Gomery is anxious to clear his name and is looking to the Harper government to see whether an appeal might be filed to Thursday’s court decision.