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An over-looked moment in Canadian innovation


 

Canwest attaches a correction to Richard Foot’s review of prorogations past.

A Canwest News Service story in Saturday’s paper said incorrectly that John A. Macdonald and Stephen Harper are the only prime ministers to have prorogued Parliament to avoid an investigation by elected legislators. In fact, Jean Chrétien’s decision to prorogue Parliament in September 2002 prevented the delivery of a report, written for the House of Commons public accounts committee, into the sponsorship scandal.

Reviewing Canadian Press clips from the time, it seems Mr. Chretien, before the House had returned from its summer break, asked the Governor General to prorogue Parliament on Sept. 16 of that year. The House reconvened for a speech from the throne on Sept. 30.

In March, the Globe had broken the story of questionable government dealings with Groupaction. The Auditor General followed with a report into those contracts in May and consequently launched a full investigation. The public accounts committee proceeded with its own hearings that spring and was expected to release a report that fall.

Though prorogation dissolved the committee, Canadian Alliance MP John Williams was re-elected chair on Nov. 7 and pledged to resume the committee’s work. After some degree of procedural wrangling and amid accusations of government stonewalling, the report appears to have been delivered on Mar. 20, 2003.


 

An over-looked moment in Canadian innovation

  1. Before Chretien prorogued Parliament in 2002, had he been shutting down committee after committee after committee to avoid accountability?

    Before Chretien prorogued Parliament in 2002, had he prevented any investigation or complaints commission from going forward?

    Before Chretien prorogued Parliament in 2002, had he fired any civil service employee responsible for accountability because he didn't like what they were saying?

    When Chretien prorogued Parliament in 2002, did he throw out over half his legislative agenda or was most of it pretty much already done, the natural time to prorogue Parliament?

    When Chretien prorogued Parliament in 2002, was it the second time Parliament had been prorogued in a year?

    When Chretien prorogued Parliament in 2002, was it the third time he had shut down Parliament in 16 months, letting all bills die on the order table?

    If we want to compare Harper and Chretien on prorogation then let's not do so by half or, as in this case, quarter (or less) measures.

    • [cont]
      None of which is to say that Chretien did the right thing, they are just different circumstances . I do however agree with the pre-PM Harper when he said prorogation when serious accountability questions are at stake is an affront to democracy and a slimy attempt to avoid accountability. Whatever happened to that Harper?

      The intteresting comparison between MacDonald's prorogation to shut down discussion about the railway scandal, Harper's prorogation to shut down discussion on his handling of Afghan detainees and Chretien's prorogation to, among other things, pass the buck on sponsorship, is that Canadians were outraged in all three cases.

      As Rick Mercer poignantly pointed out in his latest rant, "Yes, we are apathetic. But the minute someone tries to use our apathy against us, suddenly we start to care big time." MacDonald lost his first election shortly after. Chretien was being pushed out and replaced. And the polls are showing a 15% decline in support for Harper since he started shutting down Parliament on a whim.

    • When Chretien prorogued Parliament in 2002, was he a leader of a minority government in a dysfunctional parliament?

      • Oh, I wouldn't say Harper is dysfunctional. His just unaccountable and prefers it that way.

        He has gone to great effort to make Parliament not work, he even wrote a manual on how to disrupt committees and make them dysfunctiona. But he himself, I wouldn't call him dysfunctional.

  2. Until Liberal apologists like tedbetts stop trying to justify their side's behaviour we will never see change.

    First of all, making it seem Chretien was a paragon of virtue is laughable. Secondly, I believe the issues are a lack of accountability or tactics are more important than governing – both of which Harper learned at the knee of Chretien.

    Proroguing for political reasons is either right or wrong – there are no caveats that make it ok for Libs to debase Parliament for political gain but when Cons do something similar it is threat to democracy.

    • Time for a jolyon madlib:

      Until Conservative apologists like jolyon stop trying to justify their side's behaviour we will never see change.

      First of all, making it seem like Harper is a paragon of virtue is laughable. Secondly, I believe the issues are [whether] a lack of accountability or tactics [is] more important than governing – [I will not parody this part, as it is so cosmically lunatic as to stand as its own parody].

      Proroguing for political reasons is either right or wrong – there are no caveats that make it ok for Cons to debase Parliament for political gain because Libs did it..

    • Oh Chretien certainly was no paragon of virtue, and it's mainly in your imagination that people are pretending this.

      Which is why it rankles so much that harper beat his chest and said he'd be better, but ended up being worse.

      Like many (most) Canadians in 2006 I feared harper's policy agenda but didn't have any reason to not believe he would go back so thoroughly on his promises to run a clean ship. The thing is, he could have been not all that impressive but still have been better than JC. It's simply stunning that he's ended up worse on the sneaky uses of procedure file.

    • Jolyon: "Until Liberal apologists like tedbetts stop trying to justify their side's behaviour we will never see change."

      tedbetts, immediately above: "None of which is to say that Chretien did the right thing, they are just different circumstances"

      I have yet to see *anybody* claim that Chretien did the right thing. What I have seen is a lot of people pointing out that Harper has taken the avoidance of accountability to new and sickening levels, even beyond Chretien's.

      The other thing I've seen is you yelling "Chretien!" every time the topic of Harper's bad-faith actions are discussed. You know, until Conservative apologists stop trying to change the topic from their side's behaviour we will never see change.

    • Did you miss what tedbetts posted above?

      He actually stated this: "None of which is to say that Chretien did the right thing, they are just different circumstances . I do however agree with the pre-PM Harper when he said prorogation when serious accountability questions are at stake is an affront to democracy and a slimy attempt to avoid accountability. Whatever happened to that Harper?".

      Does not sound like he was justifying Lib actions, does it or are you too partisan to notice?

    • Until Conservative apologists and cranks like jolyon start actually reading what they are criticizing, we will never see change.

      How on earth do you read what I wrote and conclude I am trying to justify Chretien's behaviour or say that (cough cough) Chretien was a paragon of virtue?????

      Seriously, I'm curious. Do your eyes see the words liberal commenters write and then, somewhere between the nerves in your eyes and your brain and the muscles in your fingers, do the electrons just, I don't know know, drop ever second or third word or something?

      • Clearly it is a PEBCAK: Problem exists between chair and keyboard.

      • Do your eyes see the words liberal commenters write and then, somewhere between the nerves in your eyes and your brain and the muscles in your fingers, do the electrons just, I don't know , drop every second or third word or something?

        Bingo. Also, jolyon doesn't have anything else to write, but nonetheless feels compelled to so, for some strange reason.

      • If ted is not trying to justify Chretien`s behaviour, then just say that. Jolyon probably feels that you are trying to justify Chretien`s behaviour beause in the 13 lines prior to ted saying he wasn`t justifying Chretien`s behaviour, he appeared to be justifying Chretien`s behaviour.

    • Harper didn't learn "lack of accountability" from Chretien. The latter did not mentor the former. Arguably, Tom Flanagan had a greater influence on Harper's politics than Chretien ever did (but then, the Harperites have since disowned Flanagan, so what does that tell you?) and I'll bet my life savings Flanagan doesn't advocate the kind of accountability blockades we're seeing today.

      He learned it from being in office, finding himself in a powerful position, and then, like every other politician before him, doing everything he could – including putting tactics before governance – to preserve his position. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  3. My recollection here is that, after the Liberal leadership vote and before Martin moved to Langevin, that Chretien offered to table the AGs report so that Martin would not have to, and could start his administration with a clean slate.

    It was the Martinites who, as I recall, wanted to table the AG report to show their guy was on the job, not afraid of an investigation, and prepared to be accountable.

    One can certainly argue from how events unfolded that this was a bad decision by the Martinites, but if I'm correct in my recollection, then the reality is that they wanted prorogation so the PM could appear accountable, not to avoid accountability.

    Is my memory hear faulty? (That is possible.)

    If not, then there is a major difference from what Harper has done (twice) and what Chretien did.

    • I'm willing to give that what Chretien did was not good governance. Harper himself was highly critical of the use of prorogation, at least back then.

      The moment we start debating Chretien though, Conservatives have accomplished their goal: we are no longer having the important discussion that we should be having – what is good governance and are Canadians getting it and don't we deserve it – and we start the petty discussion with no answer and no end about who was worse Harper or Chretien, Conservatives or Liberals.

      • Exactly. Of course you're never going to get to do that because the moment anybody starts slamming Harper over prorogation and bad governance the Conservatives will just bring up how Chretien prorogued the House to dodge the Sponsorship Scandal and it's not like the Liberals aren't going to respond to it in a fashion somewhat similar to your first post. It's where the debate will inevitably go.

        • A little hard to say they tried to dodge the sponsorship scandal when it was they who called in the RCMP and they who called for the Gomery inquiry, isn't it.

          • What's that Flanagan line? It doesn't have to be true, it just has to be plausible. BTW, in saying that you're still effectively arguing that Chretien's prorogation was not as bad as Harper's. Also, the obvious response is that Martin only called the Gomery Inquiry because Chretien purposely dropped the Auditor General's Report on his lap as he walked out the door. This will inevitably lead to further discussions about the Sponsorship Scandal and some cheapshots about how Martin drafted the terms of reference so he could never be found to be involved. By this point, most people will have tuned out, frustrated at both sides.

          • But it's not even plausible when you look at the whole story, only in passing reference years after the fact.

          • Sure it is. Chretien prorogued and delayed the tabling of the report and Harper prorogued and delayed whatever's coming down the pipe. Liberals can argue all they want about the differences in terms of the effects on committees and whatever but to most people it's the same thing. Of course, if Liberals weren't too busy trying to salvage Chretien's reputation by insisting he's different than Harper they'd realize this comparison is a gift since the scandal in Chretien's case was a pretty big one so Harper may be hiding a big scandal as well.

          • This argument strikes me as particularly poor… and I've heard it any number of times. The Liberals get no credit from me for calling in the RCMP or for calling the Gomery Inquiry. Neither of those steps were taken out of altruism or virtue of any kind, they were simply attempts at damage control. Martin was trying to ride the wave of public outrage that he (through sheer negligence apparently) helped to ignite.

            Praising the Liberals for their "accountability" on Adscam is like praising a man for his bailing efforts after he blasts a hole in the bottom of his own boat. "Look how hard they worked to appear honest… once they got caught."

          • I have to say, nothing bugs me more in these comments than someone taking what I wrote and twisting it around to mean something else.

            Where am I praising Liberals for their accountability? I am merely responding to the claim that they, like Harper, were doing whatever they could to avoid accountability. It is a complete contradiction to say they were doing whatever they could to avoid accountability in light of the fact that they called in outside independent observers to investigate. It is especially contradictory when you want to make some sort of equivalency between Chretien proroguing Parliament to avoid accountability and Harper doing so. The RCMP and Gomery both had powers of investigation and remedies that far exceeded the importance of receiving the Auditor General's report.

            [cont.]

          • I have to say, nothing bugs me more in these comments than someone taking what I wrote and twisting it around to mean something else.

            Where am I praising Liberals for their accountability? I am merely responding to the claim that they, like Harper, were doing whatever they could to avoid accountability. It is a complete contradiction to say they were doing whatever they could to avoid accountability in light of the fact that they called in outside independent observers to investigate.

            It is especially contradictory when you want to make some sort of equivalency between Chretien proroguing Parliament to avoid accountability and Harper doing so. The RCMP and Gomery both had powers of investigation and remedies that far exceeded the importance of receiving the Auditor General's report.

            I am not defending Chretien or saying he didn't do wrong. It's just that his wrong is of a different kind than Harper's.

            [cont…]

      • You can either propose disciplines on this behaviour or judge Ignatieff's promise not to abue prorogation on the available evidence – which would be the past Liberal leader's decision to prorogue to avoid/delay accountablilty. You could also look at Martin's behaviour in using procedural tactics to delay a confidence vote until after Stronach joined his cabinet. As long as the Liberal policy is "trust us, we're Liberals", it makes sense to look at what Liberals did in similar circumstances.

        • Observe the familiar defensive habits of the specie Conservative when cornered. To defend itself, it will rely on basic instinctive bait and switch tactics, moving with lightning speed to distract from the topic or government at hand. The attempt will always be made to change the subject and keep it focused on its adversary, while it digs a whole to avoid any scrutiny or accountability.

          • If these are simple questions, why hasn't Ignatieff answered them simply? Layton was able to. So, is Ignatieff engaging in some devious defensive behaviour or are the questions less simple than they appear?

          • Here's what I don't understand about that. Are there some Canadians somewhere who don't know we got rid of Chretien and Martin because of this stuff? I mean it's like a textbook of what to do in this situation. And this bait and switch encourages (if not demands) that we look into what we did then, so we can know what to do now.

          • "We" didn't get rid of Chretien – Martin did, largely by taking control of most Liberal riding associations over a number of years. This weakened the party, which was probably a big factor in Martin's slow-motion defeat.

          • Hmm. Good point. All I know is that I'm a Liberal, and I wasn't going to/didn't vote for either one of them. Of course, I'm not in either one's riding either, but you know what I mean.

    • Chretien prorogued in the summer. Martin was elected Liberal leader in November. The report was delayed until the next year and overshadowed by the announcement of the Gomery inquiry, with questionable terms of reference. So, no, Chretien doesn't seem to have prorogued out of courtesy to Martin. He shut down an opposition-chaired committee, then used procedural tactics to block a damning report into Liberal theft of government money. Harper is accused of, at worst, knowingly overlooking flaws in a Liberal policy for several months.

      • Ridiculous.

        • Aw, but not patently so? Pity.

      • No. Harper is accused of shutting down committees that he doesn't like when they do their job too effectively, not letting the MPCC do its job, defying court orders, firing civil servants for fulfilling their mandates, having elections on a whim for partisan gain, showing contempt of Parliament by ignoring Parliamentary orders, proroguing Parliament whenever he is in a tight spot and shutting it down for 83 days the moment his polling numbers started to dip and evidence started to come out that his government was lying or was incompetent about what was happening in Afghanistan.

        I really don't give a crap about whether Chretien was bad or not. One of the reasons Martin had a "juggernaught" and nobody really looked too closely at how good he would be was because of how much we wanted Chretien out. So spare me this moral equivalency.

        Do you think proroguing Parliament to avoid accountability is a good thing like Harper claims now or a bad thing like Harper claimed when he was in opposition? Do you think a government should be able to choose when it is accountable and on what issues?

        • "Do you think proroguing Parliament to avoid accountability is a good thing like Harper claims now or a bad thing like Harper claimed when he was in opposition?"

          Isn't that essentially Ignatieff's position? That it's bad when a bad person does it for bad reasons, but you can trust him with it?

  4. Quoth Canwest: "Jean Chrétien's decision to prorogue Parliament in September 2002 prevented the delivery of a report, written for the House of Commons public accounts committee, into the sponsorship scandal."

    Sez Wherry: "After some degree of procedural wrangling and amid accusations of government stonewalling, the report appears to have been delivered on Mar. 20, 2003."

    So… the report was delivered, right? It seems Canwest has overstated things and that Chretien's prorogation merely delayed the report. Will they issue a correction to their correction? Is there missing information here?

    Hey jolyon: just to be clear, the above is not an endorsement of Chretien's actions.

    • It was indeed delivered, and the prorogation delayed the report. The investigation that was being conducted at the time was disbanded and then resumed with the same committee chair as prior to prorogation (suggesting that the initiative to complete the investigation was still there).

      Nonetheless, it was what appeared to be a delay for political convenience, viewed by many (Harper included, oh! the irony) as democracy delayed.

      And there's this little sentiment out there that democracy delayed is democracy denied.

    • And the Afghanistan investigation can continue when Parliament resumes, after facing similar hurdles. So, are we overstating Harper's malevolence, or missing information?

      • Or was Harper and McKay and the Conservatives then and you now understating it?

      • Actually, the Parliamentary committee will have to be reconstituted. Then the investigation will begin, not from scratch, but from a standstill. Harper will begin to stonewall again, so Parliament will have to re-enact a motion demanding access to documentation.

        It's a little facile to say the investigation will just pick up again. It will be summer before it even resumes real work, and it's doubtful they'll be able to come to any conclusions before the next election.

        Were you missing that information?

        • Actually, while you are right about the Parliamentary Committees (even the Parliamentary Committee looking into the gun registry private members bill has to start it's review from scratch), the Parliamentary order in regards to which Harper is in contempt of Parliament still stands. No new order is required.

          • Thanks tedbetts, that's the best news I've head in a while!

            Kinda makes the situation seem even more dire.

          • I'm surprised that the order of a previous Parliament would continue into a new session. How did you learn that?

          • The effect of prorogation is to kill everything that is on the order paper, i.e. government business. Private members' bills do not die because they are not on the order paper. Similarly, a Parliamentary order like the one Harper is defying is like a subpoena and is not on the order paper. It lives on its own and has its own remedies, like barring McKay or Harper from appearing in the House. It is Speakers business/House business and not government business so it does not die when Parliament is shut down.

        • How is that different from the situation under Chretien? That committee had to be reconstituted, re-elect a chair etc.

      • Don't forget that SH did not renew Peter Tinsley as chair of the Afghan committee, despite his request that they do so.
        Does that not point to malevolence?

  5. I really don't give a crap about whether Chretien was bad or not. He's gone. One of the reasons Martin had a "juggernaught" and nobody looked too closely him was because we wanted JC out. So spare me the moral equivalency. That we got poor accountability before is not relevant to whether we are getting bad unaccountable governance now.

    Do you think proroguing Parliament to avoid accountability is a good thing like Harper claims now or a bad thing like Harper claimed when he was in opposition? Do you think a government should be able to choose when it is accountable and on what issues?

  6. I find CanWest's assertion that Chretien prorogued Parliament in September of 2002 to derail Fraser's audit of the Sponsorship program highly suspect. They assert a motive that isn't born out by the actions of the players at the time. Chretien prorogued for a grand total of two weeks. He appears to have taken no action to derail the audit after Parliament resumed (there had already been two audits into Sponsorship, in 1996 and 2000).

    Chretien's motivation for proroguing was his stated desire to have a new Speech from the Throne, to cement his "legacy" legislative agenda in the face of Paul Martin's leadership ambitions. Chretien was certainly up to his elbows in political gamesmanship, but his motives had much more to do with delaying Paul Martin and putting the screws to rebellious members of his own caucus than a desire to derail a third audit into Sponsorship. Ultimately, it was Martin who elevated Sponsorship to the level of a very public scandal by launching the Gomery Inquiry. CanWest seems to be blind to the Chretien/Martin battle, which was the big issue (and motive) at the time. We now, in hindsight, see things through the lens of Sponsorship … but that doesn't make CanWest's assertion true.

      • I think that was my point. The motives we attribute to Chretien TODAY are seen in the light of the Sponsorship scandal. However, his motives at the time MAY have had more to do with his own political ambitions vs. Martin. One could easily assert that CanWest is the party doing the revising.

        I'm only stating that they haven't provided any evidence that Chretien prorogued deliberately to derail Fraser's report. There is evidence that he did so to get a new Speech from the Throne. CanWest may have evidence, but It's not present in their correction cited above. That Chretien's move delayed the tabling of Fraser's report isn't in question. The issue is whether he prorogued, specifically or in part, to achieve this end.

        Evidence?

        • Just to be clear – I was actually agreeing with you.

          • Apologies.

  7. Hey this sounds kind of familiar. Didn't some angry muppet post something in the comments of the original post about exactly this? Didn't go over too well at the time if I recall…

    • Didn't some angry muppet post something…

      You'll have to be more specific; there are a lot of angry muppets around here.

  8. Peter Tinsley was chair of the MPCC. Did the opposition pass a motion insisting that he be maintained as chair? Have they offered any views on his successor?

  9. They have no say in the matter. Appointments are the perogative of the PM with no input even from his own MPs.

    • What stops them from passing a motion on it? Didn't Harper implement more Parliamentary scrutiny over appointments anyway – something about the Supreme Court? Maybe it was Martin…

      • Harper promised an independent Public Appointments Commission in 2006 to ensure that all appointments were merit based and not partisan patronage. Then he nominated a major senior party fundraiser (who, it should be noted, was certainly qualified so he met the first test). The opposition parties rejected him as a nominee for Commissioner and Harper never bothered to try again and dropped the whole idea of an independent Public Appointments Commission altogether.

  10. Observe the familiar defensive habits of the specie Conservative when cornered. To defend itself, it will rely on basic instinctive bait and switch tactics, moving with lightning speed to distract from the topic or government at hand. The attempt will always be made to change the subject and keep it focused on its adversary, while it digs a whole to avoid any scrutiny or accountability.

    I'm genuinely interested in your opinion on this, Style, since you seem very concerned about all of us getting the issue right. What is your view on proroguing Parliament to avoid accountability? Good or bad? Should the PM get to pick and choose when he is accountable to Parliament and on what issues?

    • That cut and paste is a good one and should appear numerous times conservatives start with their vacuous pseudo-rebuttals. But are you sure you're not giving them too much credit by engaging them more than they deserve?

    • It was long-standing tradition to prorogue Parliament annually, until Parliament became less efficient with the increased influence of the opposition – that seems to be one aspect of the Aucoin essay that Aaron linked to yesterday. So, proroguing is not quite as bad as it's currently being presented, and "avoiding accountability" is not quite accurate as a description of recent government behaviour.

      That said, the New Democrats have a sensible reform idea, that could be improved by requiring a super-majority to support prorogations. The worry is that responding to today's "crisis" is not usually the best way to craft reforms.

  11. Before the conbots derail everything even further:

    Chretien not very good, harper unspeakable, let's figure out a way to solve the problem.

    • The "not very good" and "the unspeakable" tend to last long in politics.
      Paragons of virtue have far less electoral success.

  12. […cont]

    Harper has resisted absolutely every single effort to scrutinize his governance. Doesn't like what the nuclear safety commission is doing? He fires the chair. Doesn't like what the Information Commissioner is doing? He ignores information requests and gets rid of the commissioner. Doesn't like what the Budget Chief is doing? He tries to silence him, doesn't give him data he needs and then slashes his budget in half. Military Doesn't like what the Ethics Committee is doing? He shuts it down. Doesn't like what the Justice Committee is doing? He shuts it down. Doesn't like what the Afghanistan committee is doing? He shuts it down.

    And then, when he doesn't like what Parliament is doing, he shuts down Parliament.

    • "I have to say, nothing bugs me more in these comments than someone taking what I wrote and twisting it around to mean something else."

      Yeah, I hate when that happens (insert eye-rolling icon here…)

      I'm not defending Harper by comparison to Chretien or anyone else. I think what Harper did in Prorogue #2 was indefensible, and furthermore, that it was foreshadowed by what he did in Prorogue #1 (which was also indefensible, in my view). I was simply commenting on the singular point you made about the Liberals not seeking to avoid scrutiny on the Adscam file. My point is simply that the hand waving and mock horror of the Martin Liberals does them no credit whatsoever. It was show business.

      Perhaps it was a little unfair of me to inject that into a fuller discussion that you were having with someone else. That particular Liberal talking point is just a pet peeve of mine and I was commenting on that only.

      The argument about who is worse – Chretien or Harper – seems a little extraneous to me. Chretien was horrible and Harper is horrible.

      • Comment taken as intended, then.

        And by "you" in my comment, that's the royal you, not you Igarvin in particular. Didn't mean to superimpose general opinions onto you and, er, do to you exactly want I was complaining about!!

        I wasn't pointing to the calling of the RCMP and Gomery as evidence of them being accountable or good. I wasn't pointing to it as evidence that, when they finally got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, they didn't make things worse by then further dodging acccountability. If anything they did the reverse.

  13. Harper gained much of his credibility by exposing Liberal corruption and promising to make accountable government a cornerstone of his watch.
    Whether or not Harper's proroguing is the same or worse, when you make a big point of promising something better, the fall is higher and more pronounced.

  14. This is a positive and uplifting story. I believe that MacKenzie defeated Macdonald in the election that followed proroguement and of course Chretien quit. Whichever way Harper chooses to leave is ok with me.

    • You also know that Mackenzie prorogued Parliament without ever meeting the House after forming the government? I have no idea whether he was bound by "caretaker government" restrictions at that time, seeing as he hadn't demonstrated the confidence of the House. But I guess it didn't matter, as he dissolved the Parliament shortly thereafter, and won the 1874 election handily. Of course he then ran right into a Depression buzzsaw, and was out 4 years later.

      • Who knows how things would have played out had Edward Blake not turned down the PM job……

  15. Umm, I think the original article got it wrong. There might have been a report then, in 2002. The BIGGER incident of avoiding a report on Sponsorship was in Nov. 2003 when Chretien prorogued a day or two before the Auditor General was to table her report into Sponsorship.

    The Liberals were in the midst of choosing Paul Martin as their new leader and PM, and so they had that cover, but Chretien didn't need to prorogue as early as he did, and its effect was to leave a bomb for Martin to deal with as he started his premiership.

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