First up on the witness stand today: Kim Campbell, who you may remember from her don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it tenure as Canada’s first (and still sole) female prime minister, who also served as Mulroney’s defence minister during the early 1990s. She’ll be followed by Perrin Beatty, another former Mulroney-era defence minister; while it seems unlikely that either of them will be able to shed all that much light on what was going on within the inner circles of the St. Francis Xavier old boys’ club, both held key positions during the years of interdepartmental battling over Bear Head.
Okay, so, first off — she doesn’t seem to be here yet — the witness, that is; our country’s first and still only elected Right Honourable-ette. If she is, she’s wearing her invisibility cloak, and since the cameras are still thronging out front, my guess is that she’s going to make an entrance, although who knows if that means Making an Entrance, perhaps with a bit of bare shoulder peeking out, just to remind us of those heady days – actually, more like hours – when the Kimentum was high, and it looked like she might actually pull off a win, or at least not see her party reduced to just two seats.
Anyway, it will be Evan Roitenberg taking the lead for the commission during the first round of questions; I’m not sure if any of the other lawyers will have much more to say after that, which is why the rumour is that we may be out of here early this afternoon. I might even get to watch Question Period!
So — apparently, we’re running a bit late today; one of the ever obliging inquiry staffers just wandered over to the media corner to tell us that the hearing will start at 9:45. No idea what that bodes, if anything, but I figured I’d let you know.
You know, I really wonder how Schreiber used to fill his days before he had an inquiry to attend. He’s retired, I think — well, as much as somebody like that can ever *really* be retired — so maybe he spent long hours cultivating his garden, as they say. Or solving crime! Really, I can totally see him investigating locked-room murders on English country estates, a gregarious, slightly sinister German version of Hercule Poirot.
Latest word from the inquiry berryvine is that Perrin Beatty will be up by 10:30.
She’s here! Actually, I’m told she was here at 9am, but was squirreled away in the inquiry green room, where no reporters are allowed to prowl. She’s wearing black – not quite severe – and looks remarkably serene. Actually, she looks downright delighted to be here; she’s smiling and joking with the front row of lawyers.
And – it’s showtime! The former PM has been sworn in — confidential to Colleague Coyne: I know! — and has been handed the obligatory binder of evidence, which is considerably slimmer than the ones that have been tabled to date.
Wolfson – who *is* doing the questions, I guess – runs through her cv, eventually reaching her tenure at Defence, and she explains what the situation was at that time – Somalia, budget cuts – and the major procurement projects with which she was invoved, ships and helicopters.
Campbell – who I think has a bit of a cold; she sounds animated but a touch on the husky side as she tells Wolson that she doesn’t recall the Bear Head project being discussed, and never met with Karlheinz Schreiber. She then delivers a short – but actually quite interesting – explanation of how the procurement process worked back during the day, and notes that people meeting with ministerial staff to “try to sell stuff to government” is nothing new, although it does require that they register as lobbyists.
If, at a social gathering, someone told her that they happened to have a “great project,” Campbell says, she would have referred them to her staff. “Your staff would meet with them, and filter things out,” Wolson suggests, and Campbell confirms. Procurement issues, she points out — especially defence procurement — are “so technical” that even the most hardworking of ministers might not know enough to talk specifics.
Her relationship with Mulroney, Campbell recalls, was “cordial and professional” — they didn’t hang out together, which was appropriate, as far as the PM-cabinet dynamic. He never approached her to discuss the Bear Head project — “never” — or possible commitments — “nothing ever”. He did tell her about certain colleagues that might be expecting appointments, but there were no *formal* commitments — although that’s not how it looked later, she notes wryly.
After Wolson reads out a letter from Schreiber expressing concern over the lack of developments on Bear Head, Campbell denies having seen it — not in a defensive or Doucetian way, just stating a fact — and explains that she wouldn’t normally have dealt with that sort of correspondence herself; it would have gone through her office, however.
As for the handwritten notes, she points out that they seem to come from an official that familiar with the file — and apparently not terribly friendly towards Schreiber, given the underlying tone of “why won’t this man stop bugging us” frustration. She doesn’t know who wrote them, however.
A second later from a week later – March 24, 1993 – also festooned with annotations in the same handwriting as the last one, which Campbell also can’t recall having seen, and eventually, a response to Schreiber, ostensibly sent on Campbell’s behalf, and finally, a letter from her successor as defence minister, Tom Siddon, whose existence I had completely forgotten until this very moment.
She was PM at that point, Wolson notes, and Siddon was responding to the earlier Schreiber letters.
Finally, a letter fro Campbell to Schreiber directly, dated June 1993, which sounds remarkably like the friendly, but totally generic boilerplate acknowledgments that a newly ascended prime minister might send to a supporter. She notes that she signed it personally — not a machine — but adds that if it had been a *truly* personalized note, she probably would have added a greeting in her own hand, or at least crossed out the salutation and replaced it with a “Dear Karlheinz”.
As for the Harrington Lake meeting, she can’t confirm any of the accounts of the meeting, although she gets in a cute, self-deprecating line about how flattered she was by their then-rosy projections for her leadership prospects, which didn’t quite come to pass. She also denies being buttonholed by Mulroney on the Bear Head file — not that she can remember — or even having been approached directly.
She didn’t know Fred Doucet — she knew *of* him, but never had a business meeting, although she won’t deny saying “howdy doo”.
And — wow, that’s it. Any questions from the rest? Pratte, always the gentleman, notes that “it would have been an honour”, but he has none, nor does the Attorney General or Robert Houston.
Auger, however, has a quick one — he just wants to confirm that she wasn’t involved with the technicalities of the project, although she praises the letter from Schreiber as a “strong” pitch in support of his pet project. “He raised points that were responded to seriously,” she notes, and adds that even if the fact that, as per the notes from the irritated official, this was the eighth time he’d made it, “that was his job.”
OliphantWatch: He just popped up to remind Auger that Campbell herself has downplayed the idea that there was a “debate” over the project, and advises that he not use that term; he obliges.
Oh,and Campbell doesn’t recall having any discussions on the Thyssen project with Bob Fowler, although she suggests that he was probably the one who wrote those notes. Schreiber, she reiterates, was doing his job and arguing his case; the department just didn’t agree with him. “Grist for the mill in government,” she concludes, cheerfully.
And that’s it for the former PM, who gets an especially friendly farewell from the judge, who notes that it’s been “good to see her” – it really has – and wishes him good luck in his deliberations in return. Aww.
And now, a fifteen minute pre-Perrin Beatty break. At this rate, we may be out of here before noon.
We’re back – and Perrin Beatty is on the stand; apparently, he prefers to be sworn – on a Bible – than affirmed. I haven’t been paying enough attention to the oaths; I wonder if he’s the first to do so.
And here’s Evan Roitenberg, finally — not that ITQ isn’t a charter member of the Wolson Fan Club, but it’s nice to have a change now and then, just to keep things interesting.
Beatty gives a quick recap of his political career, which began in 1972, when he was but a boy of 22, and an MP under Joe Clark. Eventually, he was a victim of the Great Electoral Massacre of 1993, and headed off to the private sector.
And now, onto business — the business of defence, to be precise, and the White Paper prepared under his aegis as minister, which was the first such document to be put together in more than a decade, and more than due, as per Beatty, who explains what motivated his government to do so. The world had changed; the Canadian military was “overextended”, and a new vision was sorely needed. He – Beatty – explains that he was particularly concerned about the policy of outsourcing Canadian protection to another country — the US, in this case — which made us a defacto protectorate, and made it difficult to defend our interests in other areas.
You know, I think Perrin Beatty really loved being defence minister; he’s absolutely passionate, if retrospectively so, on what he hoped to achieve with the White Paper, particularly his efforts to ensure that Canadian soldiers would no longer be forced to use equipment “older than they were” — especially those iconic aging Sea Kings.
Roitenberg notes that, according to the pre-appearance interview that Beatty agreed to do with the inquiry, at the time that Beatty was first informed of the Bear Head project, he was concerned by the sole-source nature of the proposal, as well as whose priorities would be served — those of Thyssen — and, following from that, the local Cape Breton economy, or the Canadian military.
Under the then-conventions for sole-source contracting, as recommended by the Auditor General of the day, there were various criteria for determining whether such a bid would be appropriate; Roitenberg gives a brief rundown of what those were, and then moves back to the Thyssen project, and the discussions within the department over the Bear Head proposal.
“I got one piece of advice at the end of the day for which I was grateful,” Beatty recalls, the upshot of which seems to have been not to get involved in intradepartmental squabbles over procurement. He was the minister; those decisions would have been made before he got there.
Would it be fair to say that his views on the Thyssen proposal were “shared” by his officials? Beatty doesn’t disagree, although he points out that the minister is also obliged to support the “shared agenda” of the government.
Presented with another Bear Head-hostile memorandum from Defence, Beatty has little to add to the contents, where unnamed officials once again poured the iciest water they could muster on the Bear Head project, but he confirms that a subsequent memo fairly accurately reflects his views; he wanted a full competition, and he didn’t want to end up in a situation where regional issues took precedence over the needs of the military. As such, he thought a full, open competition would be the best way to ensure that wouldn’t happen.
At this point in time – not *now*, mind you, but in the summer of 1988 – the project was still under discussion at Defence, at the very least, Roitenberg points out. Beatty agrees, and Roitenberg then jumps forward a few months, to September, when there were even more vigourous discussions, particularly within the realm of Lowell Murray, who – at the time – was the minister responsible for ACOA. By that point, Beatty notes, the agency had gone as far as it could without Defence finally acquiescencing to the Thyssen proposal.
There was “some conversation”, Roitenberg notes, between Beatty and Murray on September 2, 1988; Beatty confirms that he kept putting *his* position forward that this should *not* be a sole source contract.
According to Beatty, he was the object *no* direction, guidance or any other influence on how to handle the Bear Head project from the then-prime minister.
Roitenberg reads the now familiar name list — Frank Moores, Gerry Doucet, Greg Alford, Karlheinz Schreiber — and asks whether he had any contact with *any* of them on the project, and Beatty consistently denies having had any discussions on Bear Head with any of them; he doesn’t even recall knowing Karlheinz Schreiber, although he notes that he certainly knows his name *now*. But, he stresses, he can’t definitively state that he never spoke with *any* of them; he just has no recollection of doing so.
Roitenberg switches the focus to Fred Doucet — who is, as he tells the witness, of particular interest for evidentiary reasons — but Beatty just can’t recall dealing with him, whether as “ambassador at large” for summit organization — gosh, I wonder who holds that post now — nor with GCI.
When it came to procurement, the demands — well, proposals — never ended, or that’s how Beatty describes it; he dealt with thousands of people on hundreds of potential projects, but he doesn’t have any specific recollection of dealing with Lawrence O’Neil, Fred Doucet or anyone else who told him that the PM wanted this one to go ahead. He chuckles when Roitenberg notes that Mulroney was hardly shy about making his views known to his ministers, and muses that, at a cabinet meeting, the then-PM once warned all and sundry that they might occasionally hear from people claiming to be speaking in his name; “I speak for me,” Mulroney apparently told his team, so if you don’t hear it from him, check with the ostensible source first.
If he *had* been directed to take a particular action on any proposal, Beatty notes, it would leave any minister with two choices: Do it, or quit.
Confronted with that infamous Understanding in Principle, Beatty gets downright animated; if the $90,000 cheque to Doucet was indeed related to his signature appearing on that document, it would make it more valuable there than it had ever been to him, he notes. He then proceeds to read out the UiP, pointing out all the areas in which it was worded with utmost generality and no firm commitments, particularly it’s utterly non-binding nature. His opinion, summed up: if Thyssen paid for this letter, they wasted their money, because had the company only agreed to a competitive process, they could’ve gotten a similar agreement for free.
More interministerial letters – Defence to ACOA, Beatty to Murray, and vice versa – laying out the reasons why this document should ‘in no way limit’ the government as far as any future procurement, and stated that any negotiations should be “low key”. Oh, and the department would *also* be involved in any communications related to a project.
At the time, Beatty – like everyone else – knew that an election was in the offing, and that certain commitments had been made to the region, but – as Campbell pointed out this morning – any such promise would have made a perfect addition to an election platform. So why, Roitenberg wonders, would the discussions on such a deal be “low key”? Beatty once again reminds him that nothing was set in stone, even given the existence of the “letter of comfort” and the Understanding in Principle. “If the company wanted to bid on these projects, they’d have to have a plant in the region,” Roitenberg notes — so why not champion *that*? Why be so shy and retiring?
Beatty reminds him that Defence still wanted to maintain its power to recommend a “preferred supplier”; from *his* perspective as minister, his priority was simple: How to get the best equipment at the lowest cause? Everything else — including, I guess, regional development — was secondary.
Roitenberg makes an interesting point: the whole “recommend a preferred bidder” priority seems almost at odds with Beatty’s steadfast insistent on having a competitive process; the former minister assures him it was just to make sure that the ability to deploy that kind of discretion was “unfettered.”
Eventually – really, that word doesn’t nearly express what a long and winding journey it was – the LAV contract was *not* put to a competitive tender.
Roitenberg pulls up a letter from then-minister Gerald Merrithew, who had suceeded Murray at ACOA, in which he – Merrithew, that is – “sets out that he is displeased” with the turn of events, which would be the awarding of the sole-source contract to General Motors, with reference – pointed reference, even – to the possibility that Ontario’s interests had been put ahead of Nova Scotia. Roitenberg notes that Merrithew expressed this view rather strongly, and Beatty agrees: “There was apoplexy,” he says.
When he received this letter, Roitenberg suggested, Beatty must have realized that he had to address the issue – there had been so much negotiation, back and forth, endless debate over the sole-source contract — something *had* to be said.
According to Roitenberg, a “cynical person might ask” how on earth Defence would have been so sure that General Motors would provide the best equipment at the lowest price without even considering any other proposals, but Beatty has his answer ready: the department had, of course, received *other* unsolicited sole-source proposals, and had decided against each of them, for various reasons.
Schreiber – who, not surprisingly, is very much engaged in this line of questioning – is whispering intensely to his lawyer, which suggests that Beatty may be spending a bit longer on the stand than initially expected.
You know, I don’t think any of us expected Perrin Beatty to be quite this thorough in his explanation of why he agreed to the sole-source proposal from General Motors; it’s not that it isn’t interesting, or relevant, but it’s hard to be riveted by testimony from a former politician who alway was, it seems, a bureaucrat and policywonk at heart.
Roitenberg is doing a bang-up job of retroactively applying the AG’s standards for sole-source contracts to the decision to award one to General Motors, but Beatty is just as spirited in offering reasons why the GM deal qualified, and taking every opportunity to retroactively *defend* his dismissal of Bear Head. I can see why he might well have rubbed certain Thyssen enthusiasts in caucus and cabinet the wrong way, not to mention Cape Bretoners.
An observation from Oliphant, who confesses that he hasn’t actually looked at this letter before today, but from what *he* can see, the letter currently before the witness actually includes both the author’s interpretation of the then-minister’s concerns, as well as his *own* concerns over that position. Beatty dismisses this as an example of the risk of inferring motive, since in this case, the motives inferred on his part “doesn’t make any sense”. He didn’t want to ensure that Thyssen *couldn’t* compete; he just had his heart set on a competition taking place. Which, of course, it didn’t.
Roitenberg – who is definitely keeping Beatty on his toes – wonders why the then-minister didn’t raise his concerns with his colleagues at cabinet committee – and Oliphant does give him a mild scolding for having fallen into the Ottawa sickness, as far as using acronyms.
Okay, apparently, we’re going to break for lunch in mid-examination; Oliphant points out that there may be *other* questions for the witness, as well. I guess this isn’t going to be such a short, sweet day after all – we’ll definitely be back at 2pm, and I’ll see you then!
It’s fascinating to watch a sort of unintentional community taking shape amongst the different encampments. When the hearings first started, we tended to stick pretty closely with our own — during the breaks, journalists would chat with other journalists, while the lawyers huddled together, and the few actual members of the public who showed up would keep their distance — but there’s a lot more intrafactional mingling now. That’s partly a result of the relative isolation of Old City Hall — we don’t really have anywhere else to go — but also because, let’s face it, we’re all madly curious to find out what everyone else thinks about the latest testimony. I imagine this is what it was like at Gomery, really, although those hearings dragged on far longer.
It’s also odd having an enforced lunch break — in my normal life, it’s not ’til QP when I can even think about hitting the cafeteria.
And – we’re back, and Roitenberg promises the witness, and the rest of us, that he has just a few more minutes of testimony. He sums up Beatty’s defence of the GM contract, which he describes as a sole source to ensure future competition. Beatty concurs with his interpretation, and Roitenberg moves swiftly to the *political* considerations: With an election looming, a decision that would put thousands of jobs at risk in southern Ontario would not, to put it mildly, be regarded fondly — and Beatty, of course, was a minister from Ontario. Beatty doesn’t dispute any of that, which is smart, because — really. Why even try?
Roitenberg asks again if he received *any* direction from *anyone* purporting to speak on the then-PM’s behalf, and Beatty avers again that he did not; he knew that Mulroney would *like* to see the project go ahead, and that the government did want to see the factory built, but that was the end of it.
Beatty notes that even the PM’s then-chief of staff, Derek Burney, intervened to make sure that the conditions for the UiP wouldn’t bind the government to a particular project.
Was he ever aware, as minister, that the plant would never be built in Cape Breton? No, he wasn’t — like a good captain, he sailed out when the new commander sailed in, which meant that he didn’t meddle in departments he’d run after moving on.
And — wow, that’s it — and no further questions from the other lawyers. I’m surprised; I would have thought Auger would want to go over a few points, but I guess not.
Ooh, drama: Apparently, Lowell Murray called the commission yesterday afternoon to let them know that he had found some documents that could be of interest to the inquiry — which, as it turned out, they would. As a result, he suggests that Murray’s testimony be postponed til next week — and suddenly, that seems an awfully long time away, especially since the rest of us won’t get to see those documents til then — and the judge concurs.
So — that’s it for today; tomorrow, it’s Norman Spector on the witness stand. Until then, this is ITQ signing off from Old City Hall — see you then!