Buckets of Data

June 6, 2005

June 6, 2005: The Hill Times: But should Murphy have been involved?

Filed under: Uncategorized — bucketsdata @ 9:40 pm

But should Murphy have been involved? Some say the PM’s chief of staff should never have been involved in the now infamous talks with Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal. Others say it’s his job
Rana, F Abbas. The Hill Times. Jun 6, 2005., Iss. 790; pg. 1

Abstract (Document Summary)
“It would have been more appropriate if [Tim Murphy] had said, ‘I’m here to listen.’If you’re thinking about abstaining, if you and your wife are thinking about crossing over, I’m here to listen, I’m not here in a position to offer anything, at this point, but I’ll certainly be happy to hear you out.”

“Tim was very very correct, I want to emphasize that. He said, ‘You’re going to be welcome.’To say much more than that would have been foolish on his part and he didn’t. I thought he was very disciplined and very correct.”

“At this stage, there’s no way they’re going to ask Murphy to stand down until it’s resolved because a resolution to this may never come. It’s an issue that people argue about, but inducing people to cross the floor has been going on forever, one way, or, the other. They don’t always cross for Cabinet posts, but they very seldom ever cross out of straightforward matters of principle without anything being done at the other end.”

Full Text (2115 words)
Copyright Hill Times Publishing Jun 6, 2005
Some political players on both sides of the fence say even though Prime Minister Paul Martin is running a wobbly minority government and a defeat in the crucial May 19 budget vote in the House could have toppled it, the chief of staff to the Prime Minister of Canada should never have dropped obvious hints of a possible reward to Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal in private conversations in exchange for either abstaining from voting against the government or joining the Liberal caucus.

Some say Tim Murphy should never have been involved in the talks, period. Others say it’s his job.

“It is a minority Parliament and things are a little bit different and certainly it was coming up to a what everybody characterized as, ‘the most crucial vote in decades in the House of Commons,’ but you have to, at the same time, step back and look at the big picture and see; where are you crossing the line and what is the ethical and proper thing to do,”said former NDP MP Dick Proctor a former chief of staff to Mr. Layton (Toronto- Danforth, Ont.) and a former chief of staff to former NDP leader Ed Broadbent (Ottawa Centre, Ont.) from 1979-80.

“It would have been more appropriate if Murphy had said, ‘I’m here to listen.’If you’re thinking about abstaining, if you and your wife are thinking about crossing over, I’m here to listen, I’m not here in a position to offer anything, at this point, but I’ll certainly be happy to hear you out.”

A day before the May 19 vote in the House, Mr. Grewal (Newton-North Delta, B.C.) caused an unprecedented political firestorm on the federal political scene when he said that senior Liberals approached him with the offer of a Cabinet, Senate or diplomatic job to him and his wife, Conservative MP Nina Grewal (Fleetwood-Port Kells, B.C.), if both would either abstain from voting against the government or break ranks with their party. Mr. Grewal dropped a bombshell when he said he had secretly recorded those conversations spanning over four hours between himself, Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South, B.C.) and Mr. Murphy.

The Liberals have steadfastly denied any offers were made to Mr. Grewal.

Initially, Mr. Grewal released only eight minutes of the taped conversation with Mr. Murphy.

Once the story surfaced, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe (Laurier-Sainte Marie, Que.) wrote a letter to the RCMP to investigate the issue and NDP Whip Yvon Godin (Acadie- Bathurst, N.B.) asked Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro to conduct an investigation.

Last week, under pressure from the media and politicians from all the parties, Mr. Grewal released the transcripts and tapes of about 96 minutes of conversations which showed that although no explicit offer was made by the Liberals, there were obvious indications from Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Murphy that after the vote, Mr. and Ms. Grewal might be rewarded if they abstained from voting or joined the governing party.

“Nobody will make you a totally blunt promise, because that is just not done in politics, usually. Going into Cabinet right away, that’s a possibility,” Mr. Dosanjh told Mr. Grewal in a May 17 conversation.

And Mr. Murphy at one occasion said: “Let me make one thing absolutely clear, that we are, we’re, a welcoming party. We’ll do everything we can to be welcoming. Obviously for us continuing to expand our base in B.C. and in prominent communities in this country is a political priority for us. It is a welcome mat that has a lot of nice comfy fur on it.”

Since the release of the tapes, Mr. Dosanjh has said that they had been doctored, and were not properly translated from Punjabi, or even transcribed from English to English. He also said that Mr. Grewal did not make all the tapes public.

Subsequently, other major media outlets hired sound engineers to go over the tapes last week.They determined edits were made.

But Mr. Grewal denied that the tapes were edited. “No, no, no,” the Tory MP told a group of reporters on the Hill when asked if he had tried to tamper with the tapes.”I can’t answer any other questions simply because the RCMP is investigating. Let them do their job.”

The Tories issued a press release on Thursday night in which they conceded that there were indeed some technical problems with the tapes but that those glitches occurred when audio tapes were copied to a CD. They also stressed that the missing parts in the conversations caused “no significant change to the substance of the conversation.”

Following the release of the tapes and transcripts, opposition parties demanded that Prime Minister Paul Martin (LaSalle- Emard, Que.) should ask Mr. Murphy and Mr. Dosanjh to step aside while the RCMP probes the issue. But Mr. Martin has ruled out any such possibility. Conservatives also accused senior PMO officials last week of interfering in the work of the RCMP.

But The Canadian Press reported on Friday that Conservative Deputy Leader Peter MacKay (Central Nova, N.S.) now refuses to defend the veracity of publicly-released copies of the tapes nor will he vouch for Mr. Grewal’s credibility.

Liberal MP Roger Gallaway (Sarnia- Lambton, Ont.) told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Murphy and Mr. Dosanjh should be suspended from their positions until an investigation is completed. The newspaper also reported on June 3 that several other Liberal MPs also said in private conversations that both of the individuals should be asked by the Prime Minister to step aside until the conclusion of an investigation.

CanWest News reported on June 3 that two prominent members of the Indo-Canadian community in B.C. said it was the Liberals who initiated the conversations with Mr. Grewal. Liberals have said since the story came out that Mr. Grewal contacted them for negotiations and have put forward a statement from Sudesh Kalia, the friend and middleman between Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Grewal who said that Mr. Grewal asked him to initiate the conversations.

Meanwhile, Mr. Proctor said that the three individuals involved in these conversations crossed the line when they discussed the possibility of a possible reward in return for crossing the floor or abstaining from the vote.

“It seems to me that everybody crossed the line on this one. Grewal, if he initiated the thing, Dosanjh, with what he promised, and Murphy, in terms of some of his comments, which are less specific, but nonetheless the intent is there. I think they all did,” said Mr. Proctor.

Legal experts, however, are divided over whether the negotiations between Mr. Murphy, Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Grewal constitute a criminal offence.

“I think it would be a real stretch to call this a criminal offence. I think you need some element of financial benefit, a direct financial benefit being involved, and I mean, let’s face it, this is the kind of horse-trading that goes on all the time in politics,” said Edward Ratushny, a law professor at the University of Ottawa in an interview with CBC’s The National on June 2.

But David Mitchell, another law professor with the University of Ottawa law school told The National in the same story that the incident is troubling.

“This is an issue of, again, a significant erosion in confidence in the institutions of governance of our country.The mere fact that these conversations have occurred has got to be worrisome,”he said.

Meanwhile, C.E.S. Franks, professor emeritus in the department of political science at Queen’s University, told The Hill Times that it’s difficult to formulate a definitive opinion of who was at fault among the three individuals involved because it’s unclear if all the tapes and transcripts have so far been made public and it’s unclear who contacted whom in the first place.

Prof. Franks pointed out that governments in the past have awarded patronage appointments to Members of Parliaments for a variety of reasons.

“I’m not sure there is a line in this and if there is, it’s been crossed many times before. It must be like a border between the United States and Canada, an open border with a few customs formalities, but, more or less free and there might well be a line, but I’ve not seen it over the years. Did Scott Brison cross that line? What happens when a government gets a person to resign from Parliament to free up a seat for someone else and gives that person an ambassadorial post, several people like that, David Berger, [Alfonso] Gagliano, Herb Gray I’m sure there are many more. They did not leave their posts without the promise of something to them. The government in this sense is free to offer positions to people,”said Prof. Franks.

Meanwhile, Prof. Franks said that the controversy underscores the significance of fixing the problem of the total control of awarding the patronage positions by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“One of the things I find objectionable of the way our government is run, is the total monopoly over making appointments by the government of the day in particular the Prime Minister’s Office. I think that’s a problem that has to be dealt with because it becomes a form of obnoxious patronage,”said Prof. Franks.

Patrick Gossage, former press secretary to former primer minister Pierre Trudeau who now is the president of Media Profile Management, a public relations firm based in Toronto, told The Hill Times that it’s not unusual for a chief of staff to a Prime Minister to engage in conversations with MPs who may be interested in crossing the floor of the House of Commons. He argued that Mr. Murphy did nothing wrong by engaging in these conversations because he did not make any concrete offer to Mr. Grewal. “To be shocked that these negotiations go on from time to time in situations like this is just totally naive on the part of both people and the media. These things go on and the fact is that Murphy got entrapped by the guy recording him; otherwise, who knows there may have been other conversations,”said Mr. Gossage.

“Tim was very very correct, I want to emphasize that. He said, ‘You’re going to be welcome.’To say much more than that would have been foolish on his part and he didn’t. I thought he was very disciplined and very correct.”

Goldy Hyder, former chief of staff to former PC leader Joe Clark, said that although there are some ethical issues involved in negotiations when senior political staffers to leaders of ruling parties conduct similar negotiations, he pointed out that it’s not “earth shattering” that these kinds of talks go on.

“It’s not an earth-shattering revelation that such things happen. I suspect, it’s neither the first nor the last [time it will happen]. It’s unfortunate, but, it seems to be part of the game. That doesn’t make it right but to deny that these things take place would be rather naive.”

But another former chief of staff to a former federal party leader, disagreed and said that aside from the ethical issues, the PMO should not have been involved because now Mr. Martin is in a tough situation and is bound to defend his chief of staff.

The former chief of staff, who did not want to identified, said that negotiations with Mr. Grewal should have been conducted by a friend or close adviser of Mr. Martin’s, but not a PMO official, adding that once things firmed up then Mr. Murphy should have met with Mr. Grewal.

Another Liberal insider, however, said many political operatives on the Hill and in Ottawa are still trying to get over the fact that Mr. Grewal actually secretly taped these conversations and then publicly released them, which is believed to be a first in Canadian political history. The Liberal said most are more offended more by that than by Mr. Murphy’s role in any talks.

In fact, the Liberal said if a deal were in the offing, the Liberals would have to send in a high-level official, “somebody with credibility and authority,” in order to illustrate that the Liberals were serious.

“You don’t send the private to negotiate the truce. You send your top gun and that’s how this game is played.

“At this stage, there’s no way they’re going to ask Murphy to stand down until it’s resolved because a resolution to this may never come. It’s an issue that people argue about, but inducing people to cross the floor has been going on forever, one way, or, the other. They don’t always cross for Cabinet posts, but they very seldom ever cross out of straightforward matters of principle without anything being done at the other end.”

– With files from Kate Malloy

Arana@hilltimes.com The Hill Times

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