Brian's Song: Day One

Andrew Coyne on what came out of the first day of Mulroney's testimony

Brian's Song: Day OneAs we wait for Brian Mulroney to resume his testimony, a few thoughts on yesterday’s proceedings:

Easily the strangest part was Mulroney’s overall attempt to frame the issue: that the reason he went to such absurd lengths to cover up his involvement with Karlheinz Schreiber — the wads of $1000 bills, the safety deposit boxes, the not declaring it on his income taxes etc — was because of all the “innuendo” about his alleged involvement in the Airbus affair, as peddled by Stevie Cameron, the fifth estate etc. And of course, the “scarring” experience of being named in the letter of request to the Swiss.

First problem: Cameron’s book didn’t appear until late 1994. The first fifth estate broadcast on Airbus was in March of 1995. The story of the letter of request broke in November 1995. Mulroney took the first payment in August of 1993, and the last, if memory serves, in December 1994. He was so scarred by innuendo in 1995 that he was taking cash in 1993. Uh-huh.

Second problem: Even if there was chatter earlier than that, it still doesn’t make any sense. You’re so worried that people might believe you had taken bribes from Karlheinz Schreiber while you were Prime Minister that you take wads of cash from him after you were Prime Minister? Of all the people on this earth that you could find to take wads of cash from, you choose him?

Third problem: There’s privacy, and then there’s just plain skulking about. Mere embarrassment or concern for reputation might explain why he would be shy of talking about his dealings with Schreiber. But envelopes of cash? Safety deposit boxes? No receipts, no invoices, no expenses, no tax returns, no paper trail of any kind? And you perform this ritual, not once, but three times?

Beyond that, most of the day was spent explaining away his many contacts with Schreiber over the years: the meetings, the letters, the birthday telegrams, the autographed photos, the invitations (from Schreiber) to holiday together, etc. He denied what he could, minimized the rest, and anything left over he forgot. We’ll see how that stands up in cross-examination. One meeting, two, you could forget. But how many were there, dozens?

And I was struck by how many times he blamed his friends Fred Doucet and Elmer MacKay for whatever contact he did have with Schreiber. They made him write the telegram. They arranged the meeting. Etc. Doucet is certainly in bags of trouble, after the evidence he gave the commission (and the ethics committee). Is he being cut adrift?

Final thought. All day long, Mulroney’s lawyer was having to rein him in (though not nearly enough — did we really need to hear about his childhood, or Trudeau’s taste in architecture, or how he single-handedly turned Newfoundland into a “have” province?). And his rambling tongue may cause him problems. For example, asked whether he knew of Schreiber’s involvemnt in bankrolling the dump-Clark campaign, led by his good friend Frank Moores, at the 1983 leadership review in Winnipeg, Mulroney gave the expected answer: No. But rather than leave it at that, he went on to denounce the very idea (the “canard,” in fact — one of my favourite words) that there was any airlift of Quebec delegates to the convention. This is one of the better documented episodes in Canadian political history. Mulroney’s official biographer, L. Ian MacDonald, even boasts about the “$250,000 in cash” Moores had to spend on delegates. The Sawatzky biography tells of a Mulroney organizer from Quebec showing up with 186 delegates in tow, and plunking down $56,000 in cash and certified cheques on the spot to pay for their registration.

Ah but that was long ago, when people weren’t so darn judgmental!

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