Taxpayers left holding the bag

Many Canadians shocked to learn they are on the hook for Mulroney's fees

L'affaire Mulroney-Schreiber

This week, Canadians got quite a surprise. They learned that they'll be paying more than $2 million to cover Brian Mulroney's legal fees at the Oliphant inquiry.
But be they bemused, angry or simply aghast, they have no say in the matter.
Nor did they have any say in 1997 when they paid $2.1 million for the former prime minister's legal and public-relations costs in a settlement with the federal government for defamation and falsely accusing him of taking kickbacks in the Airbus affair.
Mind you, all this is legal. These payments fall under a federal government policy that provides for the payment of former officer-holders' legal costs. But Canadian taxpayers might be left to wonder if they wouldn't have been spared the $4.1 million if back in 1996, Mulroney had told what lawyers call the "fulsome" story as to his relation with lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber.
In April 1996, at his examination for discovery, Mulroney was asked if he'd maintained contact with Schreiber since he left office. Under oath, Mulroney replied that when Schreiber would pass through Montreal, "we would have a cup of coffee, I think once or twice." Sounds like no big deal, right?
In 1997, the government settled with Mulroney with an apology by then justice minister Allan Rock and $2.1 million to cover his costs. But in November 2003, the Globe and Mail's William Kaplan revealed that Mulroney's connection with Schreiber was far more than a few cups of coffee. Mulroney had accepted $300,000 from the lobbyist in 1993 and 1994 in cash-filled envelopes in hotel rooms. (Mulroney has since testified that the amount was $225 000.)
The rest, as they, is history. Well, perhaps not quite. In February 2008, Rock told the federal ethics committee that had the Chrétien government known in 1996 about the cash payments and the circumstances in which they were made, it would have had an effect on the terms of settlement with Mulroney.
Which raises one of the most important questions left unanswered: If Mulroney's dealings with Schreiber, including $225,000 cash payments, were perfectly legal commercial business deals, as he has testified, why did he not simply say this in 1996?
And why, according to the Globe and Mail's editor-in-chief, did he also try to "strike a deal in 2003 to block an article that said he received cash payments from Karlheinz Schreiber?"
Canadians heard Mulroney testify at the Oliphant inquiry that he didn't reveal his dealings with Schreiber in 1996 because he wasn't asked.
As for his attempt to persuade the Globe and Mail not to tell, well, that speaks for itself.
Which brings us back to the issue of Canadians paying more than $4 million for Mulroney's legal fees.
If Rock was right that the 1997 settlement would have been different had the government then known about the cash payments, it is also possible we wouldn't have needed the Oliphant inquiry 13 years later.
In yesterday's Globe and Mail, columnist Rick Salutin put it this way: If Mulroney had "testified fully" in 1996, that $2.1 million to cover his fees is probably "public money he'd never have got."
There's no way of knowing that for sure, but it is a thought that probably crossed the minds of many taxpayers when they learned this week that they'll be paying another $2 million for Mulroney's fees.
Many commentators in this country have noted how badly Mulroney's credibility has been hurt by all this.
But it is taxpaying Canadians who are left paying the bills.

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