May 26, 2005: Toronto Star: Volpe says he took no part in wooing Grewal
The Toronto Star
May 26, 2005 Thursday
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A06
HEADLINE: Volpe says he took no part in wooing Tory MP
BYLINE: Robert Benzie and Sean Gordon, Toronto Star
Immigration Minister Joe Volpe insists he stayed out of efforts to convince a Conservative MP to abstain from a key budget vote. In the latest twist to the controversy swirling around a private chat between Tory MP Gurmant Grewal (Newton-North Delta) and Tim Murphy, Prime Minister Paul Martin's chief of staff, Volpe said yesterday he couldn't go along with an apparent request from Grewal.
Volpe said he distanced himself from the recruitment effort after being told Grewal wanted him to halt an RCMP probe of his activities.
Earlier this month, Volpe asked the RCMP and the federal ethics commissioner to examine accusations that Grewal and another Tory MP improperly sought money from people seeking admission to Canada.
Volpe said he was adamant he wouldn't interfere with the RCMP investigation in return for Grewal's help in the vote.
The talks last week were aimed at getting Grewal to abstain from a vote last Thursday that could have toppled the minority government of Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin. Grewal secretly taped the talks. He voted against the government, which survived the non-confidence vote on a tie-breaker from Speaker Peter Milliken.
Grewal says he was offered possible patronage appointments in return for helping to prop up the government.
The government countercharged that his key demand was an end to the RCMP probe.
"I wasn't part of the conversation between Mr. Murphy and Mr. Grewal, but ... I was alerted to a conversation and that Mr. Grewal was making a series of requests," the minister said after a speech at the University of Toronto.
In an excerpt of a taped conversation released by Grewal, Murphy says, "I will talk to Volpe and get something happening," and later Murphy adds, "I have talked to Volpe already." To which Grewal replies: "Is he manageable?" "Yes," says Murphy.
Senior Liberals have said Murphy was simply referring to the possibility of an apology from Volpe for attacks against Grewal in the Commons.
But those explanations hold no truck with the Conservatives.
Tory spokesman Geoff Norquay said Murphy still must account for why it is he appeared to be engaged in negotiations with Grewal, who secretly taped the conversation and has released portions of it.
"It's still for Tim Murphy to explain what he meant by the reference to Mr. Volpe in the conversation," he said.
Yesterday, Volpe said he indicated misgivings to Murphy about Grewal.
"(Murphy) was very objective. He didn't suggest that anything be done and I said to him: 'Well, you know, good luck for you if you're going to have a conversation with him,'" he said, adding Martin's chief of staff agreed that "none of us would ever go in that direction" by doing anything untoward.
"And I said: 'Good, then we're all on the same page.'"
Grewal, who was travelling to New Brunswick and could not be reached yesterday, said he spoke at length with Murphy and was offered a diplomatic post for himself and a Senate seat for his wife, Nina, also a Tory MP, in exchange for skipping last week's budget vote.
The Tories also confirmed yesterday they have hired a translator to sift through several hours of previously unreleased tapes to provide a transcript of other discussions between Grewal and Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh that took place in Punjabi.
The transcript will likely not be completed until the end of the week. The Tories say they will hand over the tapes and transcripts to "appropriate authorities" but have not said whether they will be made public.
Dosanjh insists Grewal approached him through a mutual friend - an account the person in question supports - while Grewal maintains Dosanjh sought him out.