By BRIAN LAGHI
Globe and Mail Update
Victoria Prime Minister Jean Chrétien fired back at his political opponents today, saying they are beneath contempt for accusing him of improperly lobbying a bank president on behalf of a constituent.
Declaring that the allegations are those of desperate opposition opponents, Mr. Chrétien said that promises from Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day to run a civil campaign have run aground.
"As you know, the leader of the opposition began this election campaign talking about an agenda of respect.
"That agenda is dead and buried."
Mr. Day accused the Prime Minister on Friday of breaking the law when he contacted Francois Beaudoin, former president of the Crown-owned Business Development Bank, about a $615,000 hotel loan to a constituent in his riding of St. Maurice. Tory Leader Joe Clark called the situation a cover-up, and asked for an RCMP investigation and parliamentary inquiry into whether he violated conflict-of-interest rules.
"What they have said is beneath contempt," said Mr. Chrétien. "It is particularly regrettable because it brings the whole political process into disrepute."
"Those who throw mud lose ground," he added. "The opposition parties have lost so much ground, they have nothing left to stand on."
Earlier, Mr. Chrétien told reporters that the issue of a conflict-of-interest had previously been decided by federal ethics counsellor Howard Wilson, who had said that it is only illegal when an MP or member of his staff makes representations to a quasi-judicial body, which the bank is not. That investigation also involved the hotel and the fact that one of Mr. Chrétien's office staff sat in on meetings where the loan was discussed.
"Read the letter, it explains the role of a minister. I'm a Member of Parliament," he said, in reference to Mr. Wilson's letter, which explains that cabinet ministers are as obligated to work on behalf of their constituents as regular MPs.
He called the accusations desperate campaign tactics from political leaders who were losing ground in the polls.
Mr. Chrétien was in Victoria to bolster the election chances of his environment minister, David Anderson. Mr. Anderson is said to be in a very tight battle in his Victoria riding with local Canadian Alliance candidate Bruce Hallsor.
The Prime Minister repeated an earlier campaign theme, suggesting that Victoria voters should not waste their vote on a third party and end up electing the Alliance.
"There must be a lot of people today in Florida, who regret voting for Ralph Nader," said Mr. Chrétien in a reference to the U.S. election. Some political observers believe that Vice-President Al Gore would have clearly won the election had Green Party candidate Ralph Nader not picked up several thousand votes in the contested state.