INDEPTH: SPONSORSHIP SCANDAL
Gomery report: Liberals' worst fears
CBC News Online | November 1, 2005
Mr. Justice John Gomery has touched a nerve.
By concluding that Jacques Corriveau, a close friend of former prime minister Jean Chrétien, masterminded an "elaborate kickback scheme" to funnel money to Liberal party headquarters in Quebec, he has confirmed the party's worst fears.
"Jacques Corriveau was the central figure in an elaborate kickback scheme by which he enriched himself personally and provided funds and benefits" to the Liberal Party, Gomery wrote in the summary of his fact finding report.
The judge found that sponsorship funds, disguised through complicated transactions, were used to pay the party's debts and "fake" Liberal volunteers.
How much money found its way to the Liberal Party through hefty commissions charged to the sponsorship program and illegal donations?
Gomery wasn't able to come to a firm conclusion.
Legal contributions to the party are traceable, but when it comes to cash payments, the paper trail has gone cold. The inquiry was not able to retrieve Corriveau's bank records, the judge remarked. But the weight of the testimony points to the existence of a kickback scheme, the judge concluded.
The Liberal Party of Canada "as an institution cannot escape responsibility for the misconduct of its officers and representatives," he said.
Election workers, party officials and ad agencies who "accepted contributions in cash and other improper benefits" on behalf of the party "have brought dishonour upon themselves and the political party they were supposed to serve," he says.
Gomery concluded that Jean Chrétien and his former chief of staff, Jean Pelletier, tolerated a "culture of entitlement" but cannot be blamed for Corriveau's "misconduct."
But one minister, Alfonso Gagliano, must "accept a share of the blame for tolerating the improper methods employed to finance the activities."
This will not go over well with voters who are expected to go to the polls in the spring.
The aura of scandal will have lingering effects, especially in the province of Quebec. It will give ammunition to the opposition parties, especially the Bloc Québécois.
In Quebec, where the name Gomery has become a household name, the explosive testimony before the inquiry this spring, has turned into a soap opera.
And the Bloc Québécois won't let it die.
During its late-October convention, Duceppe vowed to keep the pressure to turf the Liberals out of power. They even unveiled their ad campaign for the upcoming election, making good use of some of the most splashy sponsorship-funded goodies, such as Jean Chrétien's golf balls and Liberal Christmas tree ornaments.
How could the abuses in the sponsorship program be allowed to happen?
The judge identified two "major flaws."
Because the program was administered by private ad agencies, it was "an open invitation to unscrupulous persons to reap unjustified or exaggerated profits."
And initiating a program without clear rules "left the door open to error, abuse, and careless administration."
Prime Minister Paul Martin has come out of this fiasco looking pretty good. He was exonerated from blame, even though he held the finance portfolio at the time in question.
But the biggest test for Martin on this score is whether he'll be able to shake the tarnished image of the Liberal party on the election trail.