Monday, January 30, 2006

Credibility Check: Stronach vs. Grewal

The near-concurrent release of Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro’s report on the Grewal affair, and the Toronto Life profile of Belinda Stronach provides an opportunity to contrast and compare what Shapiro judged to be the Martin Liberals’ completely innocent conversations with Gurmant Grewal (thanks to Shapiro’s conclusion that interviews-after-the-fact were more reliable than audio tapes), with the Martin Liberals’ negotiations with Belinda Stronach.

Both sequences of events unfolded over almost exactly the same time frame: the weekend preceding the May 19, 2005 budget vote which, had the Liberals’ lost, would have resulted in a general election.

Were there Negotiations Related to “Crossing the Floor”?

Stronach: “After also gaining Stronach’s consent, Peterson insisted on being the only go-between. ‘Both sides had to trust me. This was as sensitive as a spy coming over the wall.’ Murphy was to speak only to the PM. Stronach could consult Mark Entwistle, an adviser during her leadership bid, now a trusted friend. That Entwistle had once been press secretary for Brian Mulroney, who’d been supportive of Stronach’s bid for the Tory leadership, only demonstrated how byzantine these negotiations had already become.”
--“The Belinda Stronach Defense,” Toronto Life, February 2006

Grewal: “Mr. Dosanjh indicated that on Saturday, May 14, 2005, he received a telephone call from Mr. Bob Cheema, a businessman in the Vancouver-Surrey area acquainted with both Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Grewal. According to Mr. Dosanjh, Mr. Cheema visited his home later that evening and suggested to him that Mr. and Mrs. Grewal would be willing to join the Government in return for a United Nations position or Senate appointment for her and a Cabinet post for him. . . . Mr. Dosanjh reported that he informed Mr. Cheema on May 14, 2005 that, if the Grewals wanted to cross the floor, it was up to the Prime Minister to decide what, if any, appointment he might eventually make.”
-- The Grewal-Dosanjh Inquiry (January 2006), Office of the Ethics Commissioner

Was a Cabinet Portfolio or Other Appointment(s) Offered or Demanded?

Stronach: “During the weekend’s clandestine discussions, it was Peterson who insisted Stronach receive a cabinet post. ‘This was no backbencher,’ he said. ‘She was a high-impact political player who deserved her chance to play.’ It was serendipitous that the Human Resources and Skills Development portfolio, containing all of [college dropout] Stronach’s signature issues—education, empowerment of labour, a competitive, knowledge-based economy—was lying fallow. ‘It was beautiful the way the whole thing came together,’ said Peterson. On Sunday night, Stronach confided in her father, auto parts tycoon Frank Stronach. She still had one unmet request: ‘I wanted to look Paul Martin in the eye to make sure we had the same values.’”
--“The Belinda Stronach Defense,” Toronto Life, February 2006

Grewal: “The testimonies of Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Grewal are relatively consistent as to the nature of their discussions that evening [May 16 – the night before Stronach’s news conference]. Mr. Dosanjh spoke of his own political career and noted that the Prime Minister had made no commitments or offers to him when he agreed to stand as a Liberal candidate in the 2004 election. They also discussed Mr. Grewal’s Parliamentary pension entitlements. However, their accounts differ in one important way. Mr. Grewal indicates that Mr. Dosanjh specifically offered him a Consul General position in Boston or in Seattle or an ambassadorship to a small country. Mr. Dosanjh, on the other hand, indicates that no offers were made. There is no further evidence to corroborate either of these claims.” [Grewal had intended to record this meeting, but his newly-purchased digital recorder did not work.]

May 17: “Both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Grewal agree that during the conversation, the term “deal” was used but that Mr. Murphy, a little later in the discussion, indicated this word should not be used. Mr. Murphy testified that the Prime Minister had indicated there were to be no offers. All three parties agree that the meeting ended with no offers having been made and that there was no commitment by Mr. Grewal.”

“Prior to the arrival of Mr. Murphy at this meeting, Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Grewal both agree that there was further discussion in relation to Mr. Grewal’s retirement and pension entitlement. However, their stories differ in the following respect. On one hand Mr. Dosanjh testified that Mr. Grewal was extremely excited about the crossing of the floor of Belinda Stronach, that morning, and how it was now easy for him to be appointed to Cabinet. However, Mr. Grewal’s account was that Mr. Dosanjh suggested a Cabinet position or diplomatic post for him and a Senate seat for his wife.”
-- The Grewal-Dosanjh Inquiry (January 2006), Office of the Ethics Commissioner

The Fig Leaf of “Separatism”

Stronach: “Her anxieties had crystallized around a poll indicating that the Bloc Québécois could win as many as 70 seats if Harper forced an election. As Peterson recalls, ‘Belinda thought national unity was too high a price to pay for one man’s ambition.’” [Joan’s note: in the TO Life profile, the nitty-gritty of the floor-crossing incident is related primarily through Peterson’s recollections. Belinda’s voice is not heard until after the deal had been done. Imagine, if you will, the power of being able to get a former Premier to do your PR dirty work.]
--“The Belinda Stronach Defense,” Toronto Life, February 2006

Grewal: “As well, both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Grewal testified that, in order to respond to inquiries, as to why Mr. Grewal was talking to them (Liberals), it should be done on the basis of principle. Indeed, Mr. Grewal testified he was told he should say, ‘the Bloc Quebecois and Alliance (sic) or the collaboration, was not the right way to go’”.
-- The Grewal-Dosanjh Inquiry (January 2006), Office of the Ethics Commissioner

The Role of Tim Murphy

Stronach: “Peterson called Tim Murphy, Martin’s chief of staff, to explore Stronach’s welcome if she crossed the floor. . . . Murphy was to speak only to the PM.
--“The Belinda Stronach Defense,” Toronto Life, February 2006

Grewal: “The Prime Minister also testified that he told Mr. Dosanjh to deal on this matter with Mr. Tim Murphy, his Chief of Staff, as he himself was occupied with preparations for the Royal visit.”
-- The Grewal-Dosanjh Inquiry (January 2006), Office of the Ethics Commissioner


The Martin Liberals would have Canadians believe – and they certainly convinced Shapiro – that they were unwilling to offer cabinet seats or other appointments in exchange for the Grewals’ two votes. But as the Toronto Life piece confirms, they did exchange a cabinet portfolio for Stronach’s one vote, during the exact same period of time, in concurrent negotiations, both involving Tim Murphy negotiating on behalf of the PM. Though perhaps once they had Stronach’s vote secured by late Sunday or early Monday, enticing the Grewals became “gravy” and not crucial to surviving Thursday’s vote.

But Shapiro might have drawn different conclusions about the credibility of Tim Murphy and Ujjal Dosanjh, had he known the details of the Stronach defection.

On Taping MPs

As alluded to above, Shapiro noted in his report that, due to technical and translation difficulties (some of Grewal’s taped conversations were in Punjabi), and due to “strong objections by those parties represented by counsel” (whom Shapiro does not name), Shapiro based his conclusions on interviews with the parties and witnesses involved, not on anything recorded on the tapes.

As has been noted by Andrew Coyne, the only person reprimanded in Shapiro’s report is Grewal, for engaging in the “extremely inappropriate” behaviour of taping a fellow MP. Shapiro gives short shrift to Grewal’s reasons for doing so: “Mr. Grewal testified that earlier that day, he decided to purchase a new digital tape recorder to record his conversations. He spoke of a previous incident in which another Conservative Member of Parliament stated that he had been approached to accept an appointment but that the story was denied by the Liberals. Mr. Grewal indicated he did not want to be caught in the same predicament.”

Grewal was likely referring to MP Inky Mark, who earlier in May went public with the claim that the Liberals had tried to entice him to resign in exchange for an ambassadorship. In addition to dismissing Mark’s story, then-Liberal MP Reg Alcock declared: “Frankly, if I was going to recruit somebody, I’d go a little higher up the gene pool.”

I have it on good authority from a caucus source that, after the Liberals smeared Inky Mark, other Conservative MPs who had also been approached by the Liberals to cross the floor refused to go public with their stories.

"Lesser Evil" Footnote: An added dimension to this is that around the same time that the “Grewal Tapes” story was breaking last spring, it was also emerging that an individual central to exposing Watergate, known as “Deep Throat,” was former FBI second-in-command Mark Felt.

Strictly speaking, what Felt did was illegal: if he suspected wrongdoing in the White House he was obliged to report any evidence to the Justice Department. But he went to the media instead. Yet Felt is not regarded as an unscrupulous lawbreaker, but as a heroic whistleblower. He knowingly committed an impropriety to expose a larger one. Did Gurmant Grewal do any worse?


TonyGuitar said...

I know it's superficial, but I added a few photos to TonyGuitar.blogspot.

Changed the inner border colour and removed the text *About me* or whatever it was in the profile panel.

There is still a lot of wasted space at the top. When time allows, that may get fixed too.

Did you see Kinsell*s bombshell. There's how Chretien will show bias in the Gomery gang and slither free. Damn!

Trojan worm Feb 3rd.. en guard! TG

TonyGuitar said...

Those tapes were declared authentic and fit for court evidence. At least Tim should have been penalized for the obvious influence trading attempts. TG

TonyGuitar said...

Heroic whistle blower! Without decent WB law in place, it can be an exercise in suicide.

The FBI breeches are flaberghasting! TG