CBC Digital Archives

From politics to prison in Saskatchewan

Pepper spray, tainted tuna and miracle cucumbers have all played their part in Canada’s long tradition of political misconduct. Be it lack of judgement or for personal gain, politicians misbehave. They get caught. The public is outraged. Then all is pretty much forgotten. And the cycle starts again. From John A. Macdonald and the Pacific railway fiasco to the sponsorship affair, CBC Archives looks back at some of the biggest scandals, boondoggles and white elephants in Canadian politics.

In 1988, when Jack Wolfe was elected to the Saskatchewan legislature, he was a country veterinarian and a political idealist. But the neophyte politician was soon caught in a web of corruption inside Premier Grant Devine's Conservative government. Eventually, more than a dozen former Conservative MLAs and party workers were convicted of robbing taxpayers in a bogus-expense scheme. But, as we see in this television clip, Wolfe paid the highest price of all.

The father of three, back in his veterinary practice, was anguished at the prospect of being forced to testify against his old friends and ex-colleagues. When told in 1995 that he also faced arrest, Wolfe shot himself. A former party worker says Wolfe was an innocent killed by a corrupt system. Wolfe's wife Gail says her husband's dream of public service was shattered. It might have been a "broken heart" that drove him to suicide.
• The RCMP probe, dubbed "Operation Fiddle" by investigators, led to the biggest corruption scandal in Saskatchewan history. Caucus communications director John Scraba had set up four dummy companies. They provided receipts for bogus expense claims made by some MLAs from their communications and research budgets.

• After a decade of trials and appeals, 14 former Conservative MLAs and two party workers were convicted of charges including fraud and breach of trust. Four others were acquitted, while charges against a fifth were dropped. Most of the convicted received minor punishments including fines and conditional sentences. Six people, however, were sent to jail.

• Sentences for those jailed:
- Lorne McLaren, former MLA: 3½ years.
- John Scraba, former communications director: two years, $12,000 in restitution.
- John Gerich, former cabinet minister: two years, $12,264 in restitution.
- Michael Hopfner, former MLA: 18 months, $56,000 in restitution.
- Eric Berntson, former Saskatchewan deputy premier: one year; resigned Senate seat.
- Ralph Katzman, former MLA: one year, $100,000 in restitution.

• Michael McCafferty, the former speechwriter who appears in this clip, received a sentence of one year served in the community and 60 hours of community service.
• Former Saskatchewan premier Grant Devine was never implicated in the bogus-expense scheme. He has said he knew nothing about it but took responsibility for the overall actions of his subordinates.

• In a 2001 interview with the National Post, Devine said he was particularly troubled by the suicide of Jack Wolfe, featured in this clip. Devine said: "He just couldn't handle it. I've had a lot of sleepless nights over the pain. Lots of pain. I'm very sorry for the pain. Some people made some very silly mistakes, just silly, gosh, just dumb really."

• In a 2005 interview on CBC Radio's The Current, Devine said many of the convicted MLAs innocently drew expense funds from the wrong accounts. "A lot of people shouldn't have been convicted," and the total involved -- $838,000 -- was "fairly modest" by modern standards, he said. After his interview, a panel of experts on the program criticized his view of the scandal. To hear the clip, go to Grant Devine defends his government.

• It's possible Wolfe was never going to be arrested. His lawyer, Clyne Harradence, has said he advised Wolfe the RCMP was just threatening arrest to get his full co-operation. During the trial of one MLA, an RCMP investigator testified: "Mr. Wolfe was never charged with anything ... Mr. Wolfe had not committed an offence."
• Another suicide was linked to the scandal. The mother of a convicted MLA leaped to her death after his sentencing.

• "In Saskatchewan, politics, although it was rough and tumble, was always viewed positively. I think this [scandal] has changed that profoundly." -- University of Regina political scientist Howard Leeson to Canadian Press in 1999

• The Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan was so tainted by the scandal its members voted in 1997 to temporarily suspend operations. Many members left to join the Saskatchewan Party. In recent elections, the Conservative party has mounted no campaign but fielded just enough candidates to prevent the party from being de-registered.
• David Tkachuk, the political advisr to Grant Devine described in this clip, was appointed to the Senate in 1993 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

• In 1996 a panel on CBC Radio's Morningside decreed the regime of Maurice Duplessis in Quebec -- not that of Saskatchewan's Devine -- to be the most corrupt in Canadian history. Duplessis's governments in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were characterized by the lavish use of patronage, abuses of the civil rights of suspected communists and strong-arm methods used against labour unions.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: Feb. 8, 1999
Guest(s): Michael McCafferty, Gail Wolfe
Reporter: Murray Oliver
Duration: 9:10

Last updated: May 23, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Getting the Games: Canada's Olympic Bids, ext...

It might be the most ruthless of all Olympic competitions: the race for the right to host the ...

1951: Caribou slippers for Prince Charles

There's a panic in Saskatchewan: nobody can find caribou slippers to give to Prince Charles!

1974: 28 million rotten eggs

Agriculture minister Eugene Whelan is in the frying pan over an egg scandal.

Showdown on the Prairies: A History of Saskat...

Saskatchewan is an enigma. The same province that elected North America's first socialist gove...

Getting the Games: Canada's Olympic Bids

It might be the most ruthless of all Olympic competitions: the race for the right to host the ...

Curling: Sweeping the Nation

Whether they play for fun in small-town clubs or for glory at the winter Olympics, one thing's...