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News Release

Conservatives in Conflict of Interest, Cannot Select Investigator, Inquiry Commissioner, Nor Prosecutor to Review Mulroney-Schreiber Situation
Recent Actions by Prime Minister Harper, His Staff and PCO Staff Must Be Included in Review

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

 OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch called on Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ensure independence and impartiality by allowing all federal political party leaders in the House of Commons to approve any investigator, inquiry commissioner or prosecutor selected (after a merit-based search process) to review the situation involving payments made to former Conservative Prime Minister by German-Canadian deal maker Karlheinz Schreiber and the $2.1 million settlement payment made by the federal government to Mr. Mulroney resulting from his mid-1990s libel lawsuit. (NOTE: On Friday, November 9, 2007, Prime Minister Harper stated that "it's impossible, frankly, for the government to make an impartial judgement on how to proceed" in responding to the situation, showing that he recognized that members of his government are in a conflict of interest with regard to the situation)

Prime Minister Harper's plan to select an investigator and have the investigator submit findings to him and his fellow Conservative politicians is a step backwards in federal government ethics rules and law enforcement to the almost completely ineffective 1994 to 2004 period when Ethics Counsellor Howard Wilson (who had no independence or investigative powers) reported behind closed doors to Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his Cabinet ministers on so-called investigations, and then Chrétien decided whether he himself, or one of his Cabinet ministers or staff, had broken federal ethics rules.  (NOTE: On Friday, November 9, 2007, Prime Minister Harper stated that he is undertaking his proposed steps "to protect the office of the prime minister" -- his goal instead should be to protect impartial law enforcement (a fundamental basis of any country claiming to be a democracy).

Mr. Harper's plan also raises all the same questions about independence and impartiality that have been raised about Harper’s selection of former Parti Québecois Cabinet Minister Daniel Paille to investigate public opinion research practices by the Liberal government between 1990 and 1993 and report back to Harper, and about former Prime Minister Paul Martin's selection of Justice John Gomery (who now faces a court challenge alleging bias) as the inquiry commissioner into the Adscam sponsorship scandal. 

The federal Inquiries Act should also be changed as soon as possible to allow a majority of federal party leaders to launch an inquiry, and to require approval by all federal party leaders of inquiry commissioners. (NOTE: anyone can file a complaint to launch an inquiry by the Chief Electoral Officer, the Auditor General, the Information Commissioner, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, and all of these government watchdogs are appointed with the approval of all federal political party leaders)

“When prime ministers choose people to investigate themselves, their Cabinet ministers and staff, or their political party, Canadians have a right to assume the investigator will be a biased lapdog not an impartial watchdog,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. “The federal Inquiries Act must be changed to give opposition party leaders approval powers for all inquiry commissioners to ensure their independence and impartiality.” (NOTE: similar to how officers of Parliament are selected)

In contrast to the steps proposed on Friday by Prime Minister Harper, these steps will ensure that the Mulroney-Schreiber situation is fairly and impartially investigated and ruled upon, as well as all similarly questionable situations that arise in the future.

And once these steps have been taken, federal political parties should not hesitate to initiate inquiries into 15 other questionable situations in federal politics over the past 15 years.

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Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179