By JEFF GRAY
Globe and Mail Update
Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien kept defending himself Sunday against what he called "desperate" allegations from opposition leaders that he had broken the law when he lobbied the president of a Crown bank about a loan in his riding.
He told CBC Newsworld's Don Newman on Sunday that the accusations, made by Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day and Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark last week, were ploys by "desperate leaders" that had fallen behind in the election campaign.
Mr. Chrétien compared the accusations in this campaign to the much-criticized Tory TV ad in the 1993 campaign that focused on his partial facial paralysis, saying they were signs of "last-minute desperation."
Mr. Day accused the Prime Minister on Friday of breaking the law when he contacted François Beaudoin, former president of the Crown-owned Business Development Bank, about a business loan to a constituent in his riding of Saint-Maurice. Mr. Clark called the situation a cover-up, and asked for an RCMP investigation and parliamentary inquiry into whether Mr. Chrétien violated conflict-of-interest rules.
Both Mr. Clark and Alliance MP Jason Kenney — Mr. Day does not campaign on Sundays — continued to hammer away at Mr. Chrétien on the loan-interference issue.
"The Prime Minister's pattern has always been to delay and deny and delay," Mr. Kenney told a press conference Sunday, accusing the Liberal Leader of failing to answer key questions about the affair. "We have eight more days in this election campaign, where Canadians must choose whether or not to renew their trust in this Prime Minister.
"And before they can do so, they must have all of the facts before them," he said.
Mr. Clark said the incident should raise other ethical concerns with the Liberal Leader's behaviour. "How many other Crown corporations has Jean Chrétien called?" he asked in a CBC Newsworld interview on Sunday.
The Liberal Leader has acknowledged that, in 1996 and 1997, he contacted Mr. Beaudoin, then president of the bank. The bank later approved a $615,000 loan to Yvon Duhaime, owner of the money-losing Auberge Grand-Mère, which he bought from a company partly owned by Mr. Chrétien.
Mr. Chrétien had long denied any personal involvement with Mr. Duhaime's relations with the Business Development Bank of Canada. His admission this week came after Mr. Beaudoin launched a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal against the bank and documents relating to the Liberal Leader's interventions came to light.
On Sunday, Mr. Chrétien repeated his defence that the phone calls were something any member of Parliament would have done. "I've done nothing wrong. I've been a member of Parliament for 37 years. ... I'm working for my riding, my constituents," he said, adding that he was trying to create jobs in his region.
"I know what the rules are. I can't call a judge. ... We have a rule on that. I've acted within the ethical rules that have applied to all members of Parliament," Mr. Chrétien said.
The Liberal Leader also repeated that a letter from federal ethics counsellor Howard Wilson cleared him of wrongdoing in the matter, saying cabinet ministers are as obligated to work on behalf of their constituents as are regular MPs, as long as they do not try to interfere with judicial or quasi-judicial bodies, which the bank is not.
Mr. Clark pointed out that Mr. Wilson's letter referred to an earlier request to investigate the case from NDP MP Lorne Nystrom, who was concerned about the attendance of a meeting about the loan by one of Mr. Chrétien's constituency aides — not calls from the Prime Minister himself.
"He keeps saying this issue has been settled... That's simply not true," Mr. Clark said.