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Mila, their four children to watch as ex-PM faces the committee

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

This morning, just before 9 o'clock, Brian Mulroney, his wife, Mila, and their four children will take their seats in the historic Centre Block committee room where the former prime minister will attempt to defend his name and reputation.

With his family sitting off to the side in the Railway Committee Room - placed there by the chair of the House of Commons ethics committee so as not to be in camera range and distract viewers - Mr. Mulroney will deliver a 20- to 30-minute opening statement.

In what is probably the most anticipated event of the parliamentary season, he will address the all-party committee in both French and English from his text. He will also have supporting documents with him.

For the first time since it was revealed in The Globe and Mail in 2003, Mr. Mulroney is expected to be grilled by MPs about why he took cash from arms lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber.

His presentation will be "serious, substantive and respectful," said a spokesman, speaking on condition he not be identified.

This is in contrast to former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien's appearance before the Gomery commission on the sponsorship scandal. Mr. Chrétien took aim at Mr. Justice John Gomery, mocking him for critical comments the judge had made about him.

And keeping with the Gomery comparisons, Guy Pratte, a top Ottawa lawyer who represented former Chrétien chief of staff Jean Pelletier at the commission, will be with Mr. Mulroney this morning at the committee table. The former politician is scheduled to testify for four hours, including several breaks. The committee is not expected to finish its examination of Mr. Mulroney today and may invite him back.

Mr. Mulroney arrived in Ottawa yesterday so that he could relax after several intense days of preparation in his home in the Westmount area of Montreal and his downtown Montreal office. According to his spokesman, Mr. Mulroney "held the pen" for the opening statement and took a disciplined and professional approach to the exercise.

He has also been working with Robin Sears, a former top NDP strategist, who is now a principal at a Toronto-based research company Navigator Inc. Another Navigator staffer, Joseph Lavoie, has also been involved. The two came on board after Mr. Mulroney's long-time spokesman, Luc Lavoie, announced he could no longer represent his old boss.

Mr. Mulroney, according to the spokesman, is not nervous and feels the same kind of stress and pressure as he would preparing for a big event in political life, such as a speech or a leadership debate.

"I think he wants to come and say what he has to say and tell his story and that is it," the spokesman said.

The committee room will be packed. It can accommodate 80 people, including 20 fixed positions for reporters. The rest of the seating is first come, first served.

Mr. Szabo said that he was accommodating a request for seating for the family, not wanting to "see them standing against the wall."

However, he said, he is not displacing the news media to make room for the Mulroneys. "They [the media] need to see people's faces ...," he said.

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