UP FRONT

D-DAY APPROACHES

The Gomery report is coming—and Ottawa awaits it with bated breath

Peter Mansbridge October 31 2005
UP FRONT

D-DAY APPROACHES

The Gomery report is coming—and Ottawa awaits it with bated breath

Peter Mansbridge October 31 2005

D-DAY APPROACHES

UP FRONT

Mansbridge on the Record

The Gomery report is coming—and Ottawa awaits it with bated breath

Peter Mansbridge

WHEN, IN EARLY 2001, the Chrétien government appointed a royal commisson to look into the future of health care, it was seen as the beginning of a debate that could well frame the next federal election campaign. The commission’s chair, Roy Romanow, was well known, and there were some observers (I’ll plead guilty here) who felt his role could launch him as a viable candidate in what was then the unofficial Liberal leadership campaign. After all, Romanow, in spite of his NDP past, was a longtime pal of Jean Chrétien, and Chrétien was almost certainly looking for someone who could stop the prowling Paul Martin. The media geared up: health care was the issue of the day. Cross-country hearings were scheduled, and TV crews readied to broadcast many of them.

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While the inquiry has unearthed a lot of dirty little Liberal secrets, Harper wants some of that dirt to stick to the PM’s hands

Then, suddenly, Sept. 11. Minds refocused—reporters prepped for the debate over wait lists were suddenly learning about the intricacies of homeland security. As a result, when the commission got going, there were empty seats at the press table, media outlets ran far fewer stories than originally planned, and polls reflected waning interest. Over time, the issue came back, and played a part in the 2004 election, but not as the deciding factor it once seemed about to become.

We now sit on the eve of another report, on a far different issue, but its findings could determine the fate of the country’s major political players. The Gomery inquiry dominated the headlines earlier this year. There are few examples in our recent history of an inquiry that has en-

joyed the impact this is likely to have. The Walkerton probe into Ontario’s tainted water scandal, the Westray inquiry into the mine collapse in Nova Scotia, the APEC inquiry into RCMP crowd-control—all were important, but none had the overall punch that Gomery seems ready to deliver.

Paul Martin has rested his case on the assertion that he, although a senior Quebec member of the Chrétien cabinet, was never aware of the specific details of the sponsorship program, and certainly not of the sordid details that have been revealed in the proceedings before Justice John Gomery. None of the testimony deemed credible has suggested anything to the contrary, and the early leaks about the report suggest it will conclude that Martin was not in the loop. But most people agree on one thing: if the inquiry finds he was knowledgeable, it’s hard to imagine the PM lasting out the day.

Then there’s Stephen Harper, whose campaign plan is clear: this government has to go because, in his words, it is corrupt. He’s been helped by what seems a never-ending list of examples, the latest being the David Dingwall affair and an amazing collection of questionable expenses in the Fisheries Department. But the crown jewel remains Gomery, and while the inquiry has uncovered a lot of the dirty little secrets of how the Chrétien Liberals oversaw the sponsorship program, Harper would clearly prefer some of that dirt sticking to Martin’s hands. If it doesn’t, assume the Liberals will claim vindication, while Tories will argue the devil is in the finer details—of which there may be many, most of them ugly.

The clock is ticking relentlessly toward the expected Nov. 2 Gomery release, and no one is watching the hands move more closely than Paul Martin and Stephen Harper, ill

Peter Mansbridge is Chief Correspondent of CBC Television News and Anchor of The National.

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