Was No committee controlled by Ottawa?

Option Canada


What followed the release of the book was surreal. Prominent federalists who took active part in the referendum all scrambled to deny they knew of Option Canada's existence.
It's the referendum that won't go away. Because its results were so close in 1995,, and support for sovereignty remains strong, there's an air of unfinished business about it.
The Gomery commission on the sponsorship scandal showed how the federal government handled what followed. In the name of national unity, millions of tax dollars were diverted into the pockets of friends of the regime and the coffers of the Liberal Party.
This week, Les secrets d'Option Canada, a book by investigative reporter Normand Lester and historian Robin Philpot, exposed part of what happened during the referendum campaign itself.
Option Canada was created two months before the referendum vote. Based on the full accounting documents found by the authors, Lester and Philpot contend that most of its $5.2-million budget was spent illegally during the referendum campaign to promote the No side.
What followed the release of the book was surreal. Prominent federalists who took active part in the referendum all scrambled to deny they knew of Option Canada's existence.
Although it had an official office and address in Montreal, and although many individuals as well as two Liberal-frendly ad firms, BCP and Groupe Everest, cashed cheques from Option Canada, mosf of these people were struck with the "Gomery syndrome" called amnesia.
Its president, Claude Dauphin, downplayed his role, saying he was just an "honorary" president who never issued any payments. He only made requests for subsidies, he said.
Dauphin did ask Heritage-Canada for money. It granted $4.8 million from a special program to promote linguistic duality. But this money was never used for that purpose. As the former president of the Council for National Unity, Peter White, pointed out in The Gazette, Option Canada was created as "a device to funnel money into the referendum campaign."
Maybe Dauphin would like to tell taxpayers why and how Option Canada was granted so much money under a program it had no intention of applying.
After Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair accused Jean Charest of having been in it with both feet in 1995, the premier denied he knew about Option-Canada when he was vice-president of the No committee.
Charest said that being the leader of the Tory party with only one other MP didn't give him much pull in the No committee. Given the condescending way in which Jean Chrétien treated Charest once the No side won, there's no reason to doubt Charest's word.
But the most staggering fallout item the book is the denial from Daniel Johnson, former premier and president of the No committee in 1996.
He also said he knew nothing of Option Canada or of its hidden treasure chest.
There are only two possibilities here. One is that Johnson is lying. But that would be very risky for him should someone ever betray him and prove he knew.
The other is that he's telling the truth. If he is, then we get into a scenario where the real boss of the No side might not have been the president of the official No committee.
It's unfathomable that any real boss of the No side would not have known about a group that was spending millions of dollars and issuing cheques with its name and address printed on them to various prominent federalists, as well as to communications firms BCP and Groupe Everest.
Even Charest's own MNAs, Pierre Paradis and Norm MacMillan, said they knew of Option Canada's existence.
But if Johnson is telling the truth, then it's a very revealing statemenL
It says the official leader of the No committee had no knowledge of something so major as some Liberal group funnelling a whopping $5 million into his own organization.
This would mean federal Liberals did to Quebec Liberals the samething they did in the 1980 referendum: sideline Johnson the way they sidelined Claude Ryan.
We know Pierre Trudeau despised Ryan, whom he saw as too nationalist. And we know Trudeau wanted to crush the Yes side to pave the way for the patriation of the constitution.
In 1998, we saw what little respect Chrétien had for Johnson when he sat by while the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party was thrown away like a rotten tomato.
Mostly Chrétien and Trudeau never trusted Quebec based Liberals to fight sovereignists. They saw them as too wishy-washy.
So it wouldn't be surprising to find out that federal Liberal, through Option Canada and other means, would have gone behind Johnson's back to take control of the No side's secret financing.


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