COVER

Stevens on the attack

SHERRI AIKENHEAD December 1 1986
COVER

Stevens on the attack

SHERRI AIKENHEAD December 1 1986

Stevens on the attack

Sinclair Stevens made some allegations of his own last week. For 17 weeks the former Conservative minister had sat by as a parade of witnesses testified at a public inquiry about conflict-of-interest allegations that have been made against him. But as Stevens began a full week of telling his side of the story, he accused the

Canadian Association of Japanese Automobile Dealers of feeding misinformation to the Toronto Globe and Mail as part of a conspiracy to discredit him and the government. Stevens claimed that the association was angry because he had defended federal tariff policy that favored Korean automakers and hurt its members. During cross-examination, a contentious Stevens exchanged barbs with commission lawyer David Scott. After one persistent line of questioning, Stevens lashed out, “The type of thing is exactly what The Globe and Mail tried to trigger in their writings when their character assassination was under way.”

As the inquiry ended its public testimony, Stevens remained steadfast in his denials that he breached federal conflict-of-interest guidelines while he was minister of regional industrial expansion from 1984 until his resigna-

tion last May over the conflict issue. One key allegation is that his wife and business partner, Noreen, negotiated a $2.6-million loan for their holding company, York Centre Corp., from the cofounder of a firm that received $13.9 million in grants from Stevens’s government department. But Stevens testified that he had gone “a mile above” what the guidelines required to guard against even the appearance of conflict, making sure that he received as little information as possible about his family companies when he placed his assets in a blind trust. Said Stevens: “When you are in politics, appearances are often more important than reality.”

There were also a few lighter moments. At one point, Stevens could not explain how York Cen tre documents got into his briefcase while he was in Ottawa. "I didn't do it. Anybody could. You could have," Ste vens testified. "These were not time bombs, Mr. Stevens," snapped a frustrated Scott. "Well, I would hope you wouldn't put a time bomb in my bag," Ste vens smiled. But the mood turned confronta tio:~a1 again when Ste vens said that his role as manager of their

family businesses has been questioned partly because of her gender. Staring at Scott, Stevens shouted, "The reality is that my wife is a woman!"

As Stevens concluded his testimony, Scott zeroed in on one of the most potentially damaging charges against the former minister: that he mixed personal business with government business during a trip with his wife to New York in 1985. Stevens acknowledged that during a meeting with officials of the Chase Manhattan Capital Markets Group he discussed both government contracts and a religious coin that Noreen Stevens wanted to market. But even that, Stevens said, did not violate the conflict guidelines. Ontario High Court Judge William Parker, who heads the inquiry, must decide whether he agrees.

SHERRI AIKENHEAD in Toronto