CANADA

Mackasey’s day in committee

MARY JANIGAN November 7 1983
CANADA

Mackasey’s day in committee

MARY JANIGAN November 7 1983

Mackasey’s day in committee

For the past 7½ months, both a parliamentary comittee and the courts have investigated Bryce Mackasey’s tangled financial affairs. Still, although a judge ruled last August that there was not “a shred of evidence” to justify sending Mackasey to trial on charges of influence peddling and accepting a bribe, the former Liberal cabinet minister has never testified in his own defence. But last week, flanked by two lawyers, Mackasey finally appeared before the Commons privileges and elections committee—where he portrayed himself as an unschooled “humble Irishman from Verdun” wronged by articles in a powerful newspaper, the Montreal Gazette. Mackasey claimed that The Gazette—which reported last March that he had been named as a paid lobbyist at a bankruptcy hearing— “wrecked my life” and was probably responsible for the charges against him. Then he plunged the committee into an ethical dilemma, demanding that it censure the Gazette for “flagrant abuse of the power and freedom of the press.” Mackasey flatly denied the Gazette report, and he coupled that with a list of the personal problems caused by the articles. The newspaper reported that witnesses at a bankruptcy hearing heard former Montreal Board of Trade president Robert Harrison identify Mackasey as a paid lobbyist and the owner of a numbered company. Last week Mackasey reconfirmed that he had made minor representations to former supply and services minister Jean-Jacques Blais for the firm Les Ateliers d’usinage Hall Ltée., a Montreal machine tool firm which Harrison advised.

Testimony at the preliminary hearing last summer revealed that the num-

bered company 109609—owned by Harrison-borrowed $400,000 from the Bank of Montreal in November, 1981, to buy Mackasey’s stock portfolio, which had declined in value from $625,000 to $178,000. That $400,000 loan was guaranteed by Montrealer Jean Bruyère, who owned Les Ateliers Hall. The $400,000 was then paid back to the bank to partially cover Mackasey’s $625,000 loan (which he had borrowed to buy the stocks). Sessions Court Judge Benjamin Schecter noted then that Mackasey had made a most satisfactory business deal.

The committee avoided Mackasey’s business dealings and concentrated instead on the handling of the case by The Gazette. The paper’s former publisher, Robert McConnell, argued two weeks ago that the newspaper had a public duty to report that witnesses said Mackasey had been named in a court case as a paid lobbyist.

The divided committee must now write a report which it will submit to the Commons for adoption. It has several options. It could conclude that Mackasey has been cleared of all wrongdoing and that The Gazette fulfilled its obligations. Conversely, the committee could ask the Commons to censure the newspaper. If that conclusion is reached, Maclean’s has learned that The Gazette will appeal, using the Charter of Rights to argue that it did not have a fair trial because it could not cross-examine its accuser, Mackasey. Still, the most likely outcome is that the Commons session will end soon and the committee’s mandate will lapse. That will leave the ethical dilemma to the journalism schools—and Mackasey’s constituents.

-MARY JANIGAN in Ottawa.