OTTAWA - Paul Martin was urged
by a senior Liberal party official in early 2002 to look into rumours
that federal money was being improperly funnelled through the government's
sponsorship program for "partisan purposes," the National
Post has learned.
In a February, 2002, letter sent to Mr. Martin
while he was still finance minister, the party's then-national policy
chair asked him to "prepare a fact-based reply" to "the
growing rumours that funds from the sponsorship programme are being
diverted" through advertising firms closely linked to the Liberals.
Akaash Maharaj warned Mr. Martin that fellow
members were expressing discomfort about the speculation, so much
so that the issue had "become a creeping miasma over the Party."
Because Mr. Martin was both the "government's
chief financial officer and our Party's most senior Quebec minister"
at the time, Mr. Maharaj said he was the perfect person to examine
"I trust you will agree, however, that
while it would be absurd for a minister of the Crown or an officer
of the Party to act on every rumour that comes his or her way, this
one is sui generis, and cries out to be nipped in the bud."
The letter emerged as questions over the sponsorship
scandal continued yesterday.
The scandal erupted on Tuesday when Sheila Fraser,
the Auditor- General, revealed that as part of a Chretien-era marketing
plan to promote federalism in Quebec, Liberal-friendly advertising
firms received $100-million in commissions and fees in exchange
for little or no work.
Opposition critics have demanded to know what
Mr. Martin knew of problems in the program and when he learned of
them. Critics have also questioned why Mr. Martin, who was finance
minister at the time, did nothing to stop the problems.
Mr. Martin said yesterday he knew little about
the program during his tenure as Jean Chretien's finance minister,
and any Cabinet minister who did know about corruption and did nothing
about it should resign.
Mr. Martin said yesterday that he had believed
problems ailing the program were merely administrative until Ms.
Fraser's first report on problems in the sponsorship program was
released in May, 2002.
"That is when I began to understand that
what had occurred went far beyond administrative failures and involved
possible criminal conduct," he said.
"But even then, no one understood the full
scope of what was involved until the Auditor-General's report that
came out recently."
He also repeated an earlier position that there
was little he could do to influence decisions regarding Quebec.
Mr. Maharaj said yesterday he received a standard
letter of receipt from Mr. Martin's office, but never any further
direction on how to answer the onslaught of questions coming from
Scott Reid, a spokesman for the Prime Minister,
said his staff was still searching for the February letter last
night so it is unclear how Mr. Martin responded to the message,
if at all.
However, he said the letter would have been
just one aspect of the flurry of rumours and media reports about
possible corruption that were floating around Ottawa in early 2002
-- rumours that led to Ms. Fraser being called in to investigate
contracts awarded to Groupaction, a Montreal advertising firm.
"Mr. Martin, as a member of the Cabinet,
was part of the decision to call in the Auditor-General," Mr.
Reid said last night.
Mr. Maharaj's 2002 letter, however, expressed
concern that the Auditor-General and the Ethics Counsellor lacked
"the ability to fully investigate the government programmes"
because they could not delve deeply enough into the inner workings
of the Liberal Party of Canada.
"My worry is that any report by them that
is silent on the role of the Party is likely to be interpreted as
implicating the Party merely by its failure to exonerate the Party,"
Although based on media reports and innuendo
circling through the Liberal Party of Canada, Mr. Maharaj's letter
warns of a possible partisan payment scheme "connected with
the 2000 general election campaign in Quebec."
Mr. Maharaj said last night that although the
letter did not contain details, it should have at least given Mr.
Martin an idea of the potential abuse being waged with taxpayers'
"In the exceptionally unlikely event that
there are any shards of fact within the rumours, I know you will
agree that the Party would have a still greater responsibility to
discover and to be forthcoming with the truth," he wrote in
the 2002 letter. "Ultimately, each of us has a duty to be a
patriot before he is a partisan, and to be guided by the judgement
of history rather than the verdict of tomorrow's polls."
Mr. Martin said yesterday he takes "personal
responsibility" for getting to the bottom of what went wrong.
He also promised to appear before the public inquiry he established
earlier this week.
"I profoundly regret that something as
objectionable as this occurred, and for the unconscionable disregard
that some in government, bureaucratic and political, showed for
the law and for appropriate behaviour," the Prime Minister
"Anyone who knows anything that could help
shed light in this area, in the government, in the caucus or anywhere
in the country, corporations or in the Liberal party should come
forward, not wait to be compelled, as they will."
Mr. Maharaj, who is no longer the national policy
chair, said although he expected a more comprehensive response from
Mr. Martin, he will be "shocked" if the Prime Minister
is found to be implicated in the sponsorship scandal.
"I believe he is a person of integrity,"
he said of Mr. Martin. "What I will say, though, is that I
am certain there is more to come out, because the essence of democracy
is public accountability. Heads must roll over this affair, and
they must roll at the highest level."
The Maharaj Letter
The following is a copy of the letter sent
to Paul Martin, then finance minister, from Akaash Maharaj, national
policy chairman for the Liberal Party of Canada, on Feb. 7, 2002.
Dear Minister Martin,
I hope this note finds you well. I am writing
to you in my capacity as the Party's National Policy Chair, regarding
the issue of Groupaction and the federal sponsorship programme.
I realise that this matter does not fall strictly under your ministerial
purview, but from a Party perspective, given your unique combination
of roles as our government's chief financial officer and our Party's
most senior Quebec minister, I felt that you would have both a special
interest in and a particular capacity to assist on this issue.
During the December meeting of the National
Policy Committee, a number of provincial policy chairs reported
to me their discomfort, and that of their respective members, that
this issue has become a creeping miasma over the Party. Personally,
I am receiving increasing numbers of e-mails from Party members
at large on the subject, and hearing about it directly at provincial
AGMs, in particular at the recent LPCBC policy conference.
In essence, there are persistent and growing
rumours that funds from the sponsorship programme are being diverted
to partisan purposes connected with the 2000 general election campaign
in Quebec, through the agency of advertising and public relations
firms associated with the Party.
I feel certain that the enormity of these allegations
means that they must be unfounded, perhaps the product of idle tongues
in a post-campaign, pre-leadership review period, when the armies
of Party organisers are neither engaged nor demobilised. However,
I am sure you will appreciate that even if these rumours are without
any foundation in fact, we allow them to gain currency within the
Party at our peril.
It is precisely during a period of political
uncertainty that the membership and the media are most alert to
the whiff of scandal. Moreover, as a voluntary organisation made
up of people who have been brought together by a shared belief in
the nobility of public service, there is no greater danger to our
Party than a loss of faith amongst our members in our adherence
to basic standards of democratic accountability.
As I am sure you are aware, the organisational
structure of the Liberal Party of Canada is, to put it charitably,
byzantine. The LPC, the provincial and territorial wings, and the
campaign apparatus are all at arm's length from one another. The
accounts of individual provincial campaigns are not universally
accessible to elected Party officers.
You know that the fact that I have a decidedly
vigorous commitment to the ideals of public accountability and transparency
has caused some of our colleagues to be less than fully cooperative
with me. As a result of all this, I fear it is impossible for me,
as a single officer of the LPC, to accumulate the information necessary
to refute the rumours being put to me by Party members and provincial
I should, therefore, like to ask you to consider
using your twin offices as Minister of Finance and senior minister
in Quebec, to prepare a fact-based reply that we can proclaim when
rumours are whispered within the Party, or, as will inevitably occur,
stated in the media. I am, of course, aware that the Ethics Counsellor
and the Auditor General have the ability to fully investigate the
government programmes in question. However, my understanding is
that as non- Partisan officers of Parliament, their inquiries must
be confined to government, to the exclusion of Party. My worry is
that any report by them that is silent on the role of the Party,
is likely to be interpreted as implicating the Party merely by its
failure to exonerate the Party.
In the exceptionally unlikely event that there
are any shards of facts within the rumours, I know you will agree
that the Party would have a still greater responsibility to discover
and to be forthcoming with the truth. Ultimately, each of us has
a duty to be a patriot before he is a partisan, and to be guided
by the judgement of history rather than the verdict of tomorrow's
While we would certainly suffer short-term damage
in the public's esteem if we were to uncover misdeeds of this nature
by Liberals, the wound would eventually heal: I believe in the long-term,
Canadians would come to respect a demonstration by our Party that
the virtue of the institution is greater than the greed of a few
individuals. However, if it were ever discovered that the Party
had been complicit in a violation of the public's trust, if only
through silence or indifference, the blow would be crippling.
I regret that while these are serious matters,
I have no first-hand or hard information about the sponsorship programme
and possible connections to the Party. I trust you will agree, however,
that while it would be absurd for a minister of the Crown or an
officer of the Party to act on every rumour that comes his or her
way, this one is sui generis, and cries out to be nipped
in the bud.
I look forward to hearing from you, and thank
you in advance for your consideration.
National Policy Chair, Liberal Party of Canada