Saturday, June 11, 2005

June 11, 2005 Halifax Herald "Who Cut The Tapes?"

Snip, snip, who cut the tape?

By STEPHEN MAHER / Letter From Ottawa

Someone in the Conservative party edited the Grewal tapes to make the Liberals look bad and the Tories look good.

The Tories won't say who did it, but they say the complete tapes they eventually released are the same as the tapes Gurmant Grewal first gave them. If that's true, then whoever cut the tapes was working for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

It is surprising that someone in Mr. Harper's office would be at once so stupid and so unethical.

None of this clears the Liberals of wrongdoing. There is plenty of sleaze to go around in this affair.

As the Tories keep pointing out, Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, the prime minister's chief of staff, went over the line in trying to convince Mr. Grewal to give them the votes they needed to survive a budget vote in the House. The future of the government depended on a few votes, and Mr. Grewal offered two - his and his wife's - in exchange for a cabinet post for him and a job for her.

It is against the law to offer a job in exchange for a vote.

In a series of meetings that Mr. Grewal taped, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Dosanjh try to talk Mr. Grewal into abstaining. They don't quite offer him what he is asking for, but they repeatedly make vague promises of future rewards.

I don't doubt that if they had crossed the floor, the Liberals would have made Mr. Grewal the Parliamentary Secretary for Keeping Your Mouth Shut and Ms. Grewal would have become a Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on South Asian British Columbians.

But they didn't cross. Instead, Mr. Grewal went public with his story, saying he was offered a job - a bribe - in essence, for his vote.

The Tories released a snippet of tape, and lots of journalists - including this one - quoted a chunk of dialogue that seemed to bear out Mr. Grewal's story. Mr. Murphy seems to - wink-wink, nudge-nudge - offer and not offer a reward to Ms. Grewal.

"All of which is to say, that 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," he says.

"And then we'll have much more detailed and finely hued discussions after that with some freedom. And I think that what allows is negotiating room for you, in either direction."

This, and a number of other passages, makes the Liberals look pretty bad.

Two weeks later, under pressure, the Conservatives released what they said was the whole tape. It turns out that somebody - some Tory - was lying.

What they released was a heavily edited tape. In one conversation alone there are 20 cuts. About 15 minutes of tape was left out of the package they released.

After experts concluded the tape was obviously doctored, the Tories released what they now say is the complete version. An obsessive Internet blogger, at, has compiled a word-by-word comparison of the two tapes.

It shows that someone cut out things that made the Liberals look good or the Tories look bad.

Some small cuts have a big impact in changing the nature of the conversation.

There's a long passage where Mr. Murphy gives Mr. Grewal the soft soap, making vague promises that he and his wife will be taken care of if they cross the floor. One widely quoted line: "You know obviously for us continuing to expand our base in B.C. and in prominent communities in this country is a political priority for us so it's a welcome mat that has a lot of nice comfy fur on it."

But Mr. Murphy goes on to say they can't make specific promises.

"I don't even know if Ujjal knows this, there are others in your caucus who have asked. I will do this if you will do this or that or the other thing and we have said no, period. Right? In truth, I don't think that actually serves us or that individual well, right. Because, it has been a kind you know, they have asked for a reward outside of politics and I just don't think that's, the prime minister does not think that's the right thing to do. I want you to know, you might say there is an element of trust in what's been happening here, but there's a reason for that because frankly it's better for us to be honest with you. Frankly it's better for someone like you to work on that basis."

The Tories cut out the sections in italic. So, Paul Martin told Mr. Murphy not to offer MPs like the Grewals jobs outside politics - like diplomatic posts - in exchange for their votes. Mr. Murphy is trying to tell Mr. Grewal that the Liberals will take care of the Grewals, but Mr. Martin has forbidden him to offer anything specific.

The Tories cut that, because it showed Mr. Martin had set ethical ground rules for the talks.

Later in the conversations, there are big chunks edited out where Mr. Grewal makes a hard pitch for a Senate seat for his wife.

"I will not talk to the big boss (Mr. Martin) like that, but Tim I can. Ujjal, I'm contradicting your advice a little bit, OK? The understanding that if possible my wife would be the preference for the adjustment, possibly in the Senate. So that's the understanding, but Ujjal told me not to mention it like this."

There are loads of sections cut where Mr. Grewal says things that make him look terrible. He pleads for a firm offer from Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Murphy fails to give it to him.

The Tories - or, maybe, Mr. Grewal, acting on his own - cut the tape to give Canadians the wrong idea about what happened in the talks. Then, when they were caught, they released the whole tape, and issued a news release saying the missing sections were a few seconds long, and were created through a technical glitch in file transfer in Mr. Harper's office.

That's a lie.

The Tories won't say who cut the tape. They won't deny that they were edited, although on Thursday they issued a release pointing to a review of the tapes by an expert they hired. He found no evidence that the complete tapes have been edited. That says nothing about the fact that they earlier released doctored tapes.

This raises disturbing questions about the people around Mr. Harper, although I do not believe that he personally would have approved this. On the other hand, I was surprised to learn that he didn't tell Mr. Grewal to stop secretly taping these meetings when he first learned of them.

Somebody in the Conservative party used the black arts of the war room in a vain attempt to deceive Canadians with these tapes.

The Conservatives constantly emphasize the Liberal record of corruption, and claim to offer a clean, ethical alternative.

That would be more convincing if they would tell us who cut the tape.

Hat Tip: Bourque