The Gomery commission is doing amazing work. With precision and non-partisanship, it is fast exposing the mounting ugliness of the sponsorship scandal. But what will matter most is that its final report help us answer these five crucial questions:
How much did Ottawa pay to get a majority No vote in the 1995 referendum? How much has it paid since to try to prevent another referendum? How did Jean Chrétiens government do it? Did its propaganda "war" benefit the Liberal Party financially? If so, how much public money dished out to Liberal-friendly firms through lucrative contracts was channelled back to Liberal coffers?
Such questions reflect the main motivations behind Chrétien's determination to defeat separatism, using any and every weans at his disposal, ethical or not.
One of the many signs of this void in ethics is the Ernst & Young report produced early on in 1996. The Gomery commission revealed it was considerably watered down in its final version in what appeared to be an attempt to cover up some of the more unethical mismanagement in the Public Works department, where contracts were handed to ad agencies for years without due process.
We know by now that this system benefited Liberal-friendly firms whose mission was to increase the visibility here of Canadian symbols and of the federal government itself. The overall aim was to strengthen the Canadian identity of Quebecers and thus abort another referendum.
Here, the political motivation meets the darker, financial one. Public funds paid out to these firms also appear to have served as generous rewards, possibly for one political party, but also for a number of individuals who, as managers of these firms, saw their standard of living increase dramatically through these years.
Not a pretty picture for a democracy. Thus the importance of the commission tracing the direct political responsibility of the sponsorship scandal to the Chrétien's office. There's no more doubt that such an onerous machine could only be managed from the PMO itself.
With this week's release of a secret report on national unity that was discussed amply, at a cabinet meeting Feb. 1 and 2 1996, the commission confirms that Chrétien's ministers, including newly elected Stéphane Dion, were also privy to what has become known as Ottawa's Plan B, hard-line strategy. This plan would later come to include the Supreme Court reference on secession and the clarity bill.
The commission also revealed that from 1992 to 2004, no less than $793 million in public funds was spent on federalist propaganda of all kinds. Based on evidence tabled at the commission it also appears that some contracts to those ad agencies go as far back as 1994, before the election of the Parizeau government.
Since the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, national unity has cost us a fortune. Add to these millions that Brian Mulroney's government spent leading up to the Charlottetown Accord to help Robert Bourassa tame the post-Meech, pro-sovereignty wave.
From June 1990 to the October 1992 referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, Ottawa spent $260 million for such unity operations as the Keith Spicer commission, the Beaudoin-Dobbie and Beaudoin-Edward committees, constitutional conferences galore, federal and provincial Yes and No committees and mountains of "free'' publications. There was also the $22 million that Bourassa spent on the 1992 referendum and various commissions such as Bélanger-Campeau.
In comparison, what Jacques Parizeau spent before and during the 1995 referendum was chicken feed. A few tens of millions covered the costs of the Yes and No committees the Council for Sovereignty, travelling commissions and the so-called Le Hir studies.
If you follow the money since 1990, very little has been spent to promote sovereignty whereas over $1 billion went into selling Canadian unity.
Here's the real shocker: While Chrétien was throwing public money around to sell federalism, Lucien Bouchard spent zero tax dollars on the promotion of sovereignty. While Canadian embassies were fighting Quebec separatism on the world stage, he even closed a number of Quebec delegations to save money.
What Bouchard did do was laughable. . . To protest the Supreme Court hearings on secession, silly pins were made in the shape of the tower of Pisa - always leans in the same direction as the court does, get it?
To denounce the clarity bill, a ridiculous commercial was made. Without a word on sovereignty, it showed a big paper bird with parts if its body torn off by the wind as kids danced around and sang "Alouette, je te plumerai." The bird symbolized democracy under siege, get it? That really must have scared Ottawa.
For sovereignists, Bouchard's inaction facing Chrétien's huge propaganda machine should be the ultimate scandal.
But you can bet there'll never be a commission here on why the PQ government lay dead from 1996 and 2003 while Ottawa was painting this province red.
Follow the money