Prime Minister demands apologies

Globe and Mail Update
Wednesday, November 22 – Online Edition, Posted at 10:11 PM EST

Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien demanded apologies Wednesday for the non-stop attacks on his ethics, but the opposition leaders refused to consider him exonerated and kept pouring it on.

Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark said all four opposition parties should fight for a public inquiry into Mr. Chrétien's phone calls to a Crown-owned bank as soon as Parliament resumes. He said it would be easier to get such an inquiry if Canadians elect a minority government on Monday.

Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day rejected the call for a public inquiry, saying he was not ready to give up on the possibility of a police investigation.

The two men agreed that the federal code of ethics has to be toughened, now that it has cleared Mr. Chrétien of any wrongdoing for contacting the former president of the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Mr. Chrétien had long denied being involved in the loan-approval process, but he acknowledged last week that he lobbied the BDC in 1996 and 1997 on behalf of Yvon Duhaime, owner of the money-losing Auberge Grand-Mère.

The bank later approved a $615,000 loan to help expand the hotel, which is in Mr. Chrétien's riding and in which he used to have a financial interest.

At the time, Mr. Chrétien also had a financial interest in an adjacent golf course, which the opposition said stood to gain in value because of the improvements to the hotel.

Federal ethics counsellor Howard Wilson ruled on Tuesday that Mr. Chrétien broke no rules when he lobbied the BDC. Mr. Wilson said that cabinet members were only precluded from contacting quasi-judicial bodies such as tribunals.

Mr. Wilson said he would review the code of ethics to see whether he needs to restrict contacts between ministers and Crown corporations.

Mr. Clark said that Mr. Chrétien "was let off on a technicality because the rules he wrote did not cover the abuse that he committed."

During a campaign stop in Cape Breton Wednesday, the Liberal Leader was asked whether Mr. Day should apologize for questioning his ethics since last week.

"You know if he is a gentleman, he should," he said. "That's as simple as that. You know he used the word criminal."

Asked about Mr. Clark, he replied, "Oh, he's in the same bag."

Mr. Clark countered that it was up to Mr. Chrétien to offer his excuses.

"Jean Chrétien owes an apology to the people of Canada for the way that he has wasted seven years in office, and more particularly for the fact that he has abused his power with regard to the Crown corporation," Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Day, addressing the Liberal Leader, said, "Sir, I'm just doing my job as Official Opposition Leader and I will keep doing it."

Mr. Chrétien is treating the matter as closed since Mr. Wilson's ruling. The other leaders have complained, however, that Mr. Wilson is not neutral because he was appointed by Mr. Chrétien and answers to him.

In the 1993 election campaign, Mr. Chrétien promised to create a more independent office of ethics that would report directly to Parliament.

"It may not be the best system, but the system did not exist before," he said Wednesday. "Now what do they do? They attack [the counsellor's] integrity. This man I never met before I asked him to take this job."

Mr. Clark sent letters to the three other opposition leaders Wednesday, asking them to support new rules so that actions like Mr. Chrétien's would be clearly barred in the future.

"I think that there has to be a clear signal from the other parties in the country that we do not accept this kind of behaviour," he said.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe responded with an immediate letter of support.

"It seems normal that the ethics counsellor should report to Parliament rather than the prime minister," he wrote.

"During the campaign I have announced my intention to table a motion in the House of Commons proposing a public inquiry so that Jean Chrétien and his entire administration really must be held to account."

Meanwhile, the Alliance campaign co-chairman in Ontario compared Mr. Chrétien to disgraced former U.S. president Richard Nixon. Bob Runciman, who is Consumer Relations Minister under Premier Mike Harris, predicted a re-elected Mr. Chrétien would be forced out of office in a few months.

"I'm thinking of the Watergate scandal where this was raised late in the campaign in the United States, the presidential campaign," Mr. Runciman said. "They were able to slough it off in the dying days of the campaign. Then, ultimately, Nixon had to resign."

Mr. Runciman would not reply directly when asked whether he was suggesting that Mr. Chrétien is guilty of criminal activities. Instead he responded, "I think there are serious questions surrounding Mr. Chrétien."
With a report from Richard Mackie in Toronto

Copyright © 2003 Bell Globemedia Inc. All Rights Reserved.