Poking my head out for a moment amidst the frenzy of preparation for the Belled One’s appearance at Oliphant tomorrow — really, y’all wouldn’t want ITQ to go into the Former Prime Ministerial Liveblogging Of The Century (So Far) without doing her homework, would you? — I have to confess that I share Colleague Coyne’s — shall we say scepticism over the decision to accord special treatment to the Right Honourable Witness.
I’m pretty sure I mentioned it at the time, but when the commission announced that, after successfully obtaining the consent of all parties, Team Mulroney would be conducting the main examination of their client, my eyebrow shot up, and hasn’t yet returned to its natural state, despite the ban on doing so through “leading questions” — Schreiber’s lawyer, incidentally, was concerned about that to seek explicit clarification that those would not be permitted, which the judge provided — and the not insignificant fact that, by going first, Mulroney’s lawyers have waived the right to re-examine — at least, unless “new matters” arise, and then only after successful application to the judge. Which is, strategically speaking, a major concession, as far as recovery tactics — it means that Team Mulroney won’t be able to repair any damage done to their client’s credibility after handing the floor over to the other lawyers unless the judge agrees that the subject matter is somehow “new”.
What I didn’t know until reading Coyne’s musings, however, was that Mulroney was apparently “offered an opportunity to make an opening statement to the inquiry.” Offered by whom? The story doesn’t specify, but it’s hard to see how it could be any party other than the commission itself — presumably, if the request had been made, but dismissed out of hand by Oliphant, it would have been worded very differently. As it is, the very idea that this witness would be given such leeway is more than a little unsettling.
Really, is there any legitimate reason why the inquiry would even consider giving the former prime minister a soapbox to deliver another long, rambling, self-serving speech about how very much the whole ordeal has hurt his feelings, and the feelings of his friends and loved ones, punctuated by drive-by allegations of manic anti-Mulroney conspiring by Karlheinz Schreiber, the fifth estate, Stevie Cameron — oh, heck, really the media in general, past Liberal governments and the RCMP? Didn’t we already have to sit through that performance two years ago, when he appeared before the Ethics committee? If he wants to do it again, he can hold a scrum in the hallway just like any other witness — and take questions from the press, even. You bring the bells, we’ll do the rest.
Anyway, for whatever reason, it seems that Team Mulroney has decided against accepting the generous offer, but the very fact that it seems to have been made does raise the question of whether the inquiry is prepared to treat Mulroney with the same scrupulous impartiality that has been a hallmark of the proceedings so far. He may be a former prime minister, and it may be his reputation that is most at stake this week, but as far as Justice Oliphant and his legal team are concerned, he is simply another witness, no more – or less – deserving of due consideration and deference than those who have preceded him. Let Robin Sears and Team Navigator worry about the optics surrounding Mulroney’s appearance on the stand. Justice — including Canadian commission of inquiry-style justice — is supposed to be blind to such considerations.