OTTAWA John Crosbie, who was transport minister when questions first surfaced in connection with the Mulroney government's purchase of Airbus jets, said he found it “very peculiar” that the RCMP never interviewed him as part of its now-defunct investigation.
Mr. Crosbie said he looked into the deal and found nothing wrong after a competing bidder complained of secret commissions related to the $1.8-billion deal.
One of the most outspoken members of the Progressive Conservative cabinet of Brian Mulroney, Mr. Crosbie said Monday he agrees with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's call for an independent review of Mr. Mulroney's dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber, a German-Canadian deal maker for Airbus.
“If there is any reason why this issue has come forward and must be dealt with, it's because of actions taken by Mr. Schreiber. He is the one who is obviously pushing this into public knowledge and pursuing it and co-operating with the press who have been pushing the issue,” Mr. Crosbie said in a telephone interview from his home in Newfoundland.
But he added that he is convinced that Mr. Mulroney is “absolutely innocent” of any involvement in the so-called Airbus matter.
“I satisfied myself as minister of transport and minister responsible for Air Canada with my own investigation, which I conducted at the time, and which, by the way, the RCMP never bothered to interview me on that matter in all the years that transpired since, which is very peculiar I think.”
Other veteran Tories with ties to the Progressive Conservative government of 1984-1993 offered similar support – both for Mr. Mulroney and Mr. Harper.
It has been four years since the two warring factions of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative Party came together as the Conservative Party of Canada. Conservatives from both sides say the party is strongly united and rejected any suggestion that the actions of Mr. Harper, who was a central figure in the Canadian Alliance and its predecessor, the Reform Party, could open old wounds.
“It's surprising how quickly we've melded together as a political unit,” said Conservative Senator Gerry St. Germain, who fought to bring the two parties together.
Mr. St. Germain said he supports Mr. Harper's plan to clarify the issue, but declined to comment on Mr. Schreiber's allegations. “It's not for me to judge,” he said.
Fellow Conservative Senator Donald Oliver said Mr. Schreiber's motivations should be considered, given that he is fighting deportation to Germany, where he faces criminal charges.
“One way to stay in Canada is to make a lot of allegations,” he said. “I don't think Mulroney has done anything wrong.”
The Government Leader in the Senate, Marjory LeBreton, is viewed as one of the Harper ministers who will be most affected by the cabinet-wide ban on dealing with Mr. Mulroney. Ms. LeBreton was in charge of appointments for Mr. Mulroney, and the two have kept in close contact over the years. She has served at times as Mr. Mulroney's unofficial spokeswoman. Ms. LeBreton has so far declined comment on the issue, but Liberal senators intend to pepper her with questions today in the Senate.
Mr. Crosbie, who said he is eager to learn the results of the inquiry, still describes Mr. Mulroney as “a first-class prime minister” ands says “I continue to support him.”
That confidence stems, at least in part, from his own investigation in the 1980s.
Mr. Crosbie said he consulted extensively with Air Canada officials about the purchase of the jets and he was told that Airbus was chosen after extensive study and on the advice of three committees of their board of directors.