CANADA

Canada NOTES

April 10 1995
CANADA

Canada NOTES

April 10 1995

Canada NOTES

A budget and a leak

British Columbia’s beleaguered NDP government had hoped that its goodnews budget would prove a critical step in reversing its political fortunes after a string of scandals and embarrassments. Among the budget’s highlights: a $114-million surplus (the first in six years); no new taxes; a 2.9-per-cent increase in spending; and a plan to tame the provincial debt, which had grown from $20 billion to $28 billiona 39-per-cent increasesince the NDP took office in 1991. But by the time Finance Mini-

ster Elizabeth Cull rose to deliver her budget speech last week, her eyes welled with tears—the result of exhausting all-night meetings with her staff and the frustration of having to read the details of her budget in that morning’s Victoria Times-Colonist. The newspaper had been tipped about the budget from an anonymous source a day before its scheduled release—something Cull described as “an act of sabotage.”

One of the issues that Cull had to deal with during the all-night session was whether she should resign because of the budget leak. In the end, the government decided that she need not do so because all precedents regarding finance ministers stepping aside in such circumstances centred on whether the minister or a deputy had been responsible for the leak. Premier Michael Harcourt, however, did order the RCMP to investigate the incident, which he blamed on a “rogue” civil servant who he said probably acted out of a “personal grudge or political motivation.”

should resign because of the budget leak. In the end, the govern ment decided that she need not do so be cause all precedents regarding finance min isters stepping aside in such circumstances centred on whether the minister or a dep uty had been responsi ble for the leak. Pre mier Michael Har court, however, did or der the RCMP to inves tigate the incident, which he blamed on a "rogue" civil servant who he said probably acted out of a "person al grudge or political motivation."

A coverup?

Opposition MPs accused the federal Liberal government of a coverup after it refused to call a public inquiry into the December, 1993, cancellation of a deal to sell Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to a private consortium. Cancelling the Pearson deal—which had been negotiated between the former Conservative government and a private business group— fulfilled a key Liberal promise in the 1993 federal election. But recently disclosed Transport Canada documents suggest that the Liberals had been advised at the time that the deal was essentially sound and that cancelling it could cost Ottawa up to $2 billion in compensation. As well, opposition MPs cited media reports that quoted businessman Jack Matthews, one of the early proponents of pri-

vatizing the airport, as saying that he had visited Jean Chrétien at his Ottawa law office in 1990, just before Chrétien launched his campaign for the Liberal leadership, to seek advice on lobbying Liberal MPs. Matthews said that at the same meeting Chrétien had asked about the possibility of a donation for his leadership campaign. But Paul LaBarge, a lawyer at the same Ottawa firm who attended the meeting between Chrétien and Matthews, said that it took place no later than April 15, 1989—making it unlikely that Chrétien would ask for a contribution since former Liberal leader John Turner had not yet resigned. Responding to MPs’ questions last week, the Prime Minister said he never gave advice to anyone regarding the Pearson deal. As to seeking a donation, said Chrétien, “we never talked about it and [Matthews] did not give me a damn cent.”