OTTAWA Brian Mulroney's former deputy prime minister says his ex-boss's testimony about his relationship with Karlheinz Schreiber is hard to believe, in part because he took so long to speak out.
Erik Nielsen, the tough-minded former Yukon MP who was Mr. Mulroney's deputy prime minister for two years in the 1980s, also said yesterday that the public has already concluded that Mr. Mulroney used his influence to back Mr. Schreiber's projects.
Asked how Canadians felt about the testimony, he said: "I think there was a phrase that attached to Brian years ago where he was known as Lyin' Brian, and for my own part, I believe that they're both in the same boat Schreiber and Mulroney."
Asked if he bought Mr. Mulroney's testimony, Mr. Nielsen, interviewed from his home in Kelowna, said "no" before chuckling and adding. "I know Brian."
Mr. Mulroney told a parliamentary committee on Thursday that he accepted $225,000 in $1,000 bills from Mr. Schreiber in three separate payments in 1993 and 1994. He said he earned the money acting as a consultant in pitching light-armoured trucks to international heads of state. Mr. Schreiber has said the amounts totalled $300,000.
Mr. Nielsen, who watched the proceedings on television, said the former prime minister's delay in telling Canadians about the payments has made it difficult to believe him.
"The answer to that question is another question that could be added to [Liberal MP Ken] Dryden's, 'why did you wait so long? Why?' You know, it's not the reaction of a person who was clear of everything."
Mr. Nielsen said his impression of Mr. Mulroney's performance was that it raised more questions than it answered. He added that Mr. Mulroney was able to change the flow of the questioning towards Mr. Schreiber.
"That, of course, is a very common tool of the experienced committee Parliamentarian. So it didn't answer anything. There are as many questions, even more, left now after Brian's testimony than there were before, and I don't think they are ever going to be answered."
He said the public has made up its mind that Mr. Mulroney was using his influence on behalf of Mr. Schreiber.
Other former cabinet ministers who served under Mr. Mulroney came to the former prime minister's defence. But even they said Mr. Mulroney should have revealed the payments before he did.
"When you've got something unpleasant you have to 'fess up to, it's always best to do as quick as you can and get it over with," said John Crosbie, a former minister of justice.
Mr. Crosbie added, however, that the general voting public doesn't believe that Mr. Mulroney did anything improper and that his place in history would not be negatively affected.
Pat Carney, a senior member of Mr. Mulroney's cabinet who recently announced her intention to retire from the Senate, offered some belated advice to the former PM.
"My take on it is that for 11 or 12 years, I ran a consulting company, and I learned how to do it," she said on a television panel. "Maybe I should give Mr. Mulroney some lessons, because you do not take cash in envelopes in hotel rooms.
"You have a contract. The contract spells out what you're going to do, who is going to do it, what you're going to be paid, when you deliver it. It's a business document. He apparently was doing this as a consulting job, and I just want to say, 'Brian, that's not the way to do it. You're going to get yourself into trouble.' It's not, probably, illegal."
Former Tory house leader Harvie Andre said that, although in hindsight Mr. Mulroney might have come clean sooner, he probably concluded that the issue would blow over as many such difficulties have for other politicians.
Bill McKnight, who served in the defence and energy portfolios under Mr. Mulroney, said the whole affair is primarily about Mr. Schreiber's efforts to avoid extradition.
"There's a guy who doesn't want to go back to Germany to spend the rest of his life in jail and he'll say and do anything to be sure that he stays as long as possible in Canada," he said.
Mr. McKnight, now a consultant, said he met Mr. Schreiber when he was in politics, describing the German-Canadian businessman's personality "as a little scuzzy."
"There's nothing to it [the allegations]. It's harmful to a family and a man who has given a lot to the country."
Meanwhile, yesterday, the Conservative Party of Canada filed a complaint with the CBC's ombudsman, asking for an investigation into allegations that a CBC reporter suggested questions for the Liberals on the committee to ask Mr. Mulroney.
A CBC spokesperson said the corporation has had a discussion with the reporter and there was no evidence of bias.
However, Jeff Keay added that "this was an inappropriate way of going about it and as such inconsistent with our journalistic policies and practices."
CBC is investigating the matter and will consider it under the corporation's disciplinary process. Mr. Keay did not wish to identify the individual.