Saturday, May 21, 2005

May 21 2005 Globe and Mail Reports : Layton joins call for probe into Grewal's allegations

May 21, 2005 Globe and Mail

Layton joins call for probe into Grewal's allegations

Ottawa — NDP Leader Jack Layton yesterday joined calls for the RCMP to investigate a taped conversation in which it is alleged that the Prime Minister's chief of staff suggested to an MP that the government would be more free to discuss a possible Senate appointment only after he and his wife, also an MP, abstained on Thursday night's confidence vote.

Mr. Layton backed Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who on Thursday wrote the RCMP asking them to investigate the matter. "Naturally we have concerns about any conversation that suggests or even begins to discuss even the remotest of possibilities explicit or otherwise that there would be positions available or not available in exchange for votes. That is the kind of thing that causes real consternation amongst Canadians," Mr. Layton said.

"Ultimately the officials responsible for the enforcement of the laws of this country will have to take a look at any situation that has been brought to their attention to see if laws have been violated."

Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal surreptitiously taped his talk over switching sides with Tim Murphy, Paul Martin's chief of staff, and released an eight-minute segment to the media Wednesday night, saying he had engaged in negotiations with the Liberals to prove they were trying to lure defectors with deals.

In the conversation, taped Wednesday morning, Mr. Murphy tells Mr. Grewal it is a bad idea to "have any kind of commitment that involves an explicit trade."

Mr. Murphy later suggests that if Mr. Grewal and his wife, Nina Grewal, who is also a British Columbia MP, decide to abstain from confidence votes that could defeat the government, then afterward they could have discussions about whether there might be a Senate appointment, with "some freedom."

"In advance of that, explicit discussions about Senate, not Senate, I don't think are very helpful, and I don't think frankly can be had, in advance of an abstention tomorrow," Mr. Murphy can be heard telling Mr. Grewal on the tape.

"And then we'll have much more detailed and finely hued discussions after that with some freedom."Mr. Murphy did not return a telephone call yesterday, and the Prime

Minister's press secretary, Melanie Gruer, offered only a brief prepared reply:

"Mr. Murphy will be doing no media interviews on the topic of Mr. Grewal. He issued a statement earlier this week making clear that he made no offer of any kind to Mr. Grewal.

"Mr. Murphy has retained legal counsel and will be pursuing a libel action against Andrew Coyne of the National Post, and is also considering a potential claim against Gilles Duceppe."

The Conservatives, who initially said they would release the full tape of the half-hour conversation, now refuse to do so. And they have also refused to release another tape of a prior conversation between Mr. Grewal and Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, which they say was mostly in Punjabi. A spokesman for Mr. Dosanjh, Ken Polk, said that in the conversation, Mr. Grewal asked for a cabinet post for himself and a Senate seat for his wife, but Mr. Dosanjh told him that was impossible. Mr. Dosanjh did talk with him about whether he would cross the floor without the appointment, Mr. Polk said. The Conservatives offered no reason for refusing to release the tapes.

"We think it's just plain fine the way it is," said Geoff Norquay, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's communications director. That brought a rebuke from Mr. Layton. "Having started the process by releasing excerpts, I think it's incumbent upon them to provide of the taped information that they have," he said.

A spokesman for the RCMP said that Mr. Duceppe's letter "will be reviewed and appropriate action will be taken."

The Criminal Code contains two broadly worded sections that prohibit government officials from offering any kind of benefit for someone's co-operation or influence on government business, and prohibit anyone from soliciting or negotiating an appointment to a government office "in the expectation" of an advantage or benefit.

In the eight-minute tape released to the media, Mr. Murphy also tells Mr. Grewal that he has spoken to Immigration Minister Joe Volpe. Mr. Grewal asked, "Is he manageable?" and Mr. Murphy replied, "Yes."

The excerpt includes no indication of why Mr. Volpe was involved. Mr. Volpe has referred statements made by Mr. Grewal, that he asks people who seek help in immigration matters for a financial bond, to the RCMP and the Commons Ethics Commissioner, Bernard Shapiro.

A spokesman for Mr. Volpe, Steven Heckbert, said that Mr. Murphy told Mr. Volpe that he had refused Mr. Grewal's suggestions that the government could withdraw those complaints. However, Mr. Murphy asked what Mr. Volpe thought of Mr. Grewal's request for an apology, and the Immigration Minister replied that that might be perceived as interference, but that he would be civil and make positive remarks if Mr. Grewal joined the Liberal caucus. --