Buckets of Data

January 26, 2006

Globe and Mail: Harper failed to meet ethics czar on Grewal

Filed under: Ethics Commissioner,Harper — bucketsdata @ 8:01 am

Harper failed to meet ethics czar on Grewal
By CAMPBELL CLARK
Thursday, January 26, 2006 Posted at 5:22 AM EST
From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Stephen Harper failed to meet federal Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro despite repeated attempts over four months to interview him for an inquiry into the Gurmant Grewal affair, Mr. Shapiro noted in a report released yesterday.

Despite a code of conduct that says it is an MP’s duty to co-operate with an inquiry by the commissioner, Mr. Harper’s office told Mr. Shapiro he could not find time in his schedule to answer his questions between August and November of last year. Instead, Mr. Shapiro spoke to an aide.

The report was ready last Friday but delayed to prevent accusations of political favouritism in the last days of an election campaign. In the report, Mr. Shapiro wrote that he wanted to ask Mr. Harper when he knew about the surreptitious recordings of conversations that Mr. Grewal, then a Conservative MP, had with senior Liberals about switching sides for a crucial no-confidence vote.

In the end, Mr. Shapiro concluded that it is unclear whether Mr. Grewal was really seeking a reward for crossing the Commons floor, or whether he wanted merely to entrap the Liberals — but that at the very least, his actions flew in the face of the principles of the code of conduct for MPs.

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On the eve of a no-confidence vote last May 19 that the Liberals won by one vote, Mr. Harper’s office released excerpts of recordings Mr. Grewal made, and asserted that Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, chief of staff to Prime Minister Paul Martin, offered him and his wife, Nina, also an MP, patronage jobs if they switched sides.

Two weeks later, under pressure, Mr. Grewal began releasing versions of all the conversations — the first with 14 minutes missing. The last version showed that while Mr. Murphy and Mr. Dosanjh said he would be welcomed to the Liberals and did not rule out appointments, they refused to make any deal.

In his report, Mr. Shapiro cleared Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Murphy of violating the code.

He said there is no evidence that they offered a specific inducement, such as a cabinet post or diplomatic appointment for Mr. Grewal or Ms. Grewal, who was re-elected on Monday. They both corroborated Mr. Martin’s testimony that he had instructed them not to make any deal.

But Mr. Shapiro wrote that Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Murphy should have stopped the “conversational dance” with Mr. Grewal — who did not seek re-election in Monday’s federal election — when he repeatedly asked for a reward for switching sides.

Mr. Dosanjh said in an interview he was “relieved” that Mr. Shapiro found he did not violate the code of ethics, but he charged that Mr. Harper knew about and condoned the taping of conversations.

“It’s troubling for me that the decision to actually go public with the tapes was made in the office of the then-Leader of the Opposition, now prime-minister-designate Harper,” Mr. Dosanjh said.

“I shudder to think that a person who wants to be the prime minister of the country and is parroting words such as openness, integrity, honesty, accountability and transparency, hid from the Ethics Commissioner while he has an obligation as a member of Parliament to co-operate fully with the Ethics Commissioner.”

A spokesman for Mr. Harper, William Stairs, noted that the Conservative Leader’s former communications director, Geoff Norquay, met with the Ethics Commissioner, and said Mr. Harper did meet with members of the RCMP who also looked into the affair.

“I understand that Dr. Shapiro got all the information he needed from the members of our staff,” he said.

Mr. Harper said publicly last spring that he did not speak to Mr. Grewal about his meetings with the senior Liberals until the morning of May 18, two days after the talks began.

He said he told Mr. Grewal not to tape a conversation with Mr. Martin if he met with him.

Although Mr. Grewal continued to tape conversations later that day, Mr. Harper defended his MP, saying that tape-recording conversations is legal.

The Ethics Commissioner wrote that Mr. Norquay corroborated that version of events, but that he was unable to speak to Mr. Harper despite “numerous attempts” to clarify that it was only on May 18 that Mr. Grewal told him “that he was tape recording conversations with the Liberals about crossing the floor and the offers that were being discussed.”

The MPs’ code of conduct calls for them to maintain high ethical standards and enhance trust in their integrity.

“Regardless of which is, in fact, the case, Mr. Grewal’s actions were in my view entirely inappropriate and deserving at the very least, of reproach,” he wrote.

Reached yesterday, Mr. Grewal said he had not yet read the Ethics Commissioner’s report.

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