June 2, 2005. The Current interviews Jason Kenney about the Grewal affair
This interview with Jason Kenney can be heard on the June 2 broadcast of the CBC Radio program, the Current. You can hear the statement for yourself at here. This section begins at 6:39.
Anna Maria Tremonti: The Current requested an interview with Stephen Harper, but he was not available this morning. So to talk about this I'm joined by Jason Kenney, the Conservative MP for Calgary Southest. Good morning, Mr. Kenney.
Kenney: Good Morning
Tremonti: As we heard your leader is basically defending Mr. Grewal. Do you think he's right to do that?
Kenney: Well, Mr. Grewal did what Belinda Stronach didn't do, which was to turn down offers to buy his vote as an opposition member, that of he and his wife. It's very clear from the tapes …. Let's keep this in perspective, about four weeks ago one of my colleagues, Inky Mark, an MP from Manitoba received a phone-call from a cabinet minister offering him rewards for crossing the floor, changing his vote. Uh, he refused to do that. But he didn't tape the call, and so the government came out and lied that it ever happened. Some people in the media were sceptical that he ever received those kind of, effectively, br… offers to … bribes … bribes to do his vote. And so Mr. Grewal, I think, has--observing that--has decided that, in the midst of these discussions, he was going to catch them at their own game. Which is an absolute part of a pattern. It's clear to anybody with eyes to see that they bought Belinda Stronach's vote with an inducement to cabinet, and that's what they were effectively offering Mr. Grewal.
Tremonti: OK, well, there are a couple of issues here. There's the tapes and there's the whole idea of the deal-making. Let me ask you about the first one. How appropriate do you think it is for an MP to secretly tape conversations.
Kenney: Well, I don't do it. And I don't think it's a normal practice around here, but it demonstrates the level of … how low the level of trust has declined in Paul Martin's Ottawa, that MPs, uh … And you know, quite frankly, I think at the end of the day, what Gurmant did, in retrospect, is a public service because he has revealed the kind of underhanded and potentially criminal fashion in which Paul Martin's Prime Minister's office operates. People weren't willing to believe Inky Mark when he talked about the cabinet minister who called him. Apparently they were willing to look the other way when Belinda Stronach's vote was essentially bought off by an inducement to cabinet. And so what Mr. Grewal has done is to shed a very bright light on effectively corruption in government. It is illegal in the criminal code to offer a Member of Parliament an inducement to change his vote.
Tremonti: It's also illegal to ask for one, is it not?
Kenney: And you don't see that being asked for anywhere in these transcripts. [Buckets: that is, the May 31st transcripts; the June 5th transcripts have several places where Grewal asks] And the Prime Minist… And you know what? The real problem here is the Prime Minister's integrity. Because he claimed, before these tapes were released, that Mr. Grewal approached them. But Mr. Murphy, Paul Martin's chief of staff, says twice 'you did not approach us'. Mr. Martin said Mr. Grewal wouldn't take no for an answer and was given an unequivocal no. In these nearly two hours of tapes [Buckets: at this point, 1 hour and 20 minutes of tapes had been released], the word 'no' is not uttered once. Instead they're told there is a 'furry welcome mat' that will be rolled out; that a cabinet job could be arranged 'right away'; that, uh, uh, 'I'm sure rewards are there at some point'; 'no one can forget such gestures but they require a certain degree of deniability'; they have the chief of staff to the Prime Minister saying 'the Prime Minister is saying that we're making no offers and I think that is the narrative we have to stick to'. I mean, this is like Richard Nixon's plausible deniability.
Tremonti: Well, you certainly make the point that those phrases are all in there. But what we don't know is … Mr. Grewal says the Liberals approached him, the Liberals say the reverse, the tapes don't really make clear who approached whom. There's no hellos and goodbyes on some of these tapes. What is clear is that Mr. Grewal did engage, as you point out, in several conversations about getting political rewards in exchange for his vote and his wife's vote. But how appropriate was that kind of conversation on the part of Mr. Grewal.
Kenney: Well, let's put it this way, if Mr. Grewal, hypothetically, had in fact initiated these calls--contrary-to-the-fact, by the way, the chief of staff says that he didn't--had he initiated these conversations and was seeking inducements to change votes and that of his wife, the Prime Minister's chief of staff and his Health minister would have had one responsible, ethical, and legal option, which is to say, 'Mr. Grewal, we cannot engage in such a conversation, to do so would be unethical and illegal, this conversation is over, good-bye'. Instead, Tim Murphy went to his office, called Mr. Grewal's office six times. Mr. Dosanjh met with him and spoke with him over half-a-dozen times, and the so-called Liberal intermediary called Mr. Grewal 23-times in the 72-hours prior to the vote. Does that sound like the actions of people who are shocked and appalled with an MP approaching them for inducements? Or, indeed, is it consistent with the record of people who have bought off Belinda Stronach's vote with an inducement to a cabinet job and tried to do the same with Inky Mark. I don't think so. I think it's clear where … who's wearing the ethical problem here.
Tremonti: OK, now, you know as we discuss this, of course, voters all have different opinions, and of course, as is clear, your party is standing behind Mr. Grewal. We wanted to know how his constituents feel about all of this and we went to the streets of his British Columbia riding of Newton-North Delta and I just want you to hear a little bit of what people there had to say.
Voice 1: Uh, I think Grewal has made some mistakes in judgement in how he's handled this, but I think the fault is with the government for trying to bribe him to go over on their side. So, umm, he could have used better judgement. But I don't think he did anything wrong. I think it's definitely clandestine. This certainly isn't the first time that anybody's recorded a conversation that they've had with other officials. In fact, he'd be kind of stupid not to, if you want to protect your good name.
Voice 2: Both of them are responsible; both are members of parliament of a country like Canada. If the government has asked somebody then there's nothing wrong in a democratic country, or in any democratic form of system, to ask somebody if you'd support this particular motion or not. Nothing wrong with making an offer, 'if you want to support us in this bill, then you'd go into parliament. But if they discuss selling your opinion, then that's wrong. Selling your vote, either in the parliament or even on the outside, for one vote, that's against the spirit of the democratic system.
Voice 3: It's pretty underhanded. And who's to say, you know, I mean, who's to say that Grewal didn't pursue the Liberals and who's to say the Liberals didn't pursue him. I mean, I just think it's underhanded just to be taping in the first place. And obviously there's some kind of intent if you're taping.
(14'41) Tremonti: Jason Kenney, some mixed responses there. How do you think this is going to play out among Conservative supporters in long run.
Kenney: Well, I think that whether it's Conservative or other … supporters of other parties, what they're going to see here is a pretty disgusting picture of how Paul Martin's Ottawa operates. That, that, you know, all it is confirmation of a very clear pattern, that
Tremonti: But you heard the cynicism about both sides there. You heard people saying both had a responsibility. Are you at all concerned about the fact that this could actually bite your party as well.
Kenney: Look. The difference between Gurmant Grewal's situation and Belinda Stronach's is that she took the inducement and didn't reveal the offers that she got to change her vote. Mr. Grewal did. I don't think he should be penalized.
Tremonti: OK, let me ask you about that, because you're basically saying that there had to be a conversation. What are you saying about what might have gone on, or what you might suspect went on with Ms. Stronach before.
Kenney: Well, it's absolutely clear. She, she, she went from being, um, from being a Conservative member of Parliament, voting non-confidence in the government one day to senior minister the other, changing her vote. The two are clearly connected. It was not a coincidence that she was appointed a minister the precise moment she changed her vote on a question of confidence in the House of Commons. I believe that was clearly unethical. And, and, you know, Mr. Grewal should not be blamed for telling the truth and turning down inducements to he and his wife to change his vote. He acted, ultimately--I mean, I'm not someone who goes around recording my conversations but at the end of the day, it's the Prime Minister's staff who were violating integrity, ethics, and potentially the law. It was Mr. Grewal who's revealed that. And in that sense, I believe he's done a public service. I'll tell you this. Because of what he's done, I don't believe this sort of incident will happen again. I think the prime minister's staff and ministers will be far, far more careful in the future
Tremonti: Or check for bugs.
Kenney: (laughing) before they try buying people off and in that sense I think some good will come of this whole incident.
Tremonti: Well let me ask you this, though. Mr. Harper has indicated that he did know that Mr. Grewal was going to see the Prime Minister and he was asked if he wanted him to go and Mr. Harper says he told Mr. Grewal, no. Was there more of a concerted effort? This was a very crucial moment in a vote. The Conservatives wanted to see the government fall. Was there not more of a concerted effort to convince Mr. Grewal, on the Conservative side? (17'00)
Kenney: I don't think it was necessary, as I think I … as it's … this is why I think Gurmant's good intentions were clear, because he approached Mr. Harper when he had an open door to see the Prime Minister, when these inducements had been laid before he (sic) and his wife, he went to Mr. Harper and said 'this is what's up, do you want me to pursue this conversation, I guess to find out what he's going to tell me'. Stephen said, uh, 'no', uh, 'please don't' and Gurmant then released the tapes and then voted non-confidence in the government.
Tremonti: But, that again suggests that this was an entrapment. So he wasn't …
Kenney: Well, heh heh,
Tremonti: That they didn't say please stay with us, we need your vote. Why do you want to go to the Liberals if there was no effort on the other side. That it was, 'Oh, whatever. Go see them. '
Kenney: Well, I, I, I, I don't think we've … that Mr. Harper felt at any point that Mr. Grewal was going to join the Liberals. But I'll tell you, Gurmant was willing to string them out and, uh, uh, they did precisely that. And they made it very clear that they were prepared to offer him--he and his wife--inducements, contrary to the spirit of the criminal code if not the letter, in order to change their votes. And that's what this issue is about. And the Prime Minister denied all of this. He said he wasn't prepared to meet Mr. Grewal, and he was. He said Mr. Grewal approached them, now it's clear that he didn't. He said that he was given no for an answer, he was never given no. He was offered all of these inducements. And, and so, you know, it's … it's the Liberals who are going to have to answer why
Tremonti: In fact, in fact the Liberal Health Minister will be, um, be coming on this programme, in our next half hour, but I want to ask you as well. Political pundits have been weighing in on how your party has handled this affair. Yesterday we asked Macleans magazine columnist Paul Wells for his thoughts and this is what Paul Welles had to say.
Paul Welles: Once Mr. Grewal went out and said… From the moment he went out and said he was in possession of tapes, it is hard to imagine how the Conservatives could have handled it worse. It took 13 days to come up with a translation, they still, if I understand it correctly--and it's kind of telling that this isn't clear--they still haven't released all of the tapes that Mr. Grewal claimed to possess. The fact remains that we can at least hear those tapes they have at least released and at least those parts that are in English, it really is some stuff that makes the Prime Minister's chief of staff look about as bad as they possibly could. That being said, the management of this set of tapes speaks to the Conservative party's ability to manage any complex fast-breaking file. And it doesn't speak very well.
Tremonti: That's Paul Welles, columnist for Macleans. Jason Kenney, he makes the point that what was released was very damning, but what about the rest of the tapes?
Kenney: My understanding is that everything has been released, and, uh, you know, uh…
Tremonti: Wait a minute, there were four hours of tapes.
Kenney: My understanding, according to Mr. Grewal, is that all the tapes have been released. [Buckets: This is June 2. Later that night, a new version of the Grewal-Murphy-Dosanjh tape was released that was 20 minutes longer; a few days later, another version of the Grewal-Murphy tape was released that was 15 minutes longer] It takes … I guess … you don't turn around Punjabi translation in Ottawa overnight.
Tremonti: But you can certainly do it in less than 13 days.
Kenney: Yah, but, look, listen. You know, what you're talking about now is, is, really just political tactics. How are the Conservatives managing this complex file--is not really important. What's important is whether we have a government that respects basic principles of integrity and the criminal code itself. And the bottom line here is you take away all the cute political who's up and who's down questions, who does this hurt most, what you have here is a documentary picture of a government, that's prepared to go to any lengths to stay in power with the knowledge of the Prime Minister. And that's why two-thirds of Canadians would say that the Prime Minister would lie, do or say anything to stay in power. This just confirms that.
Tremonti: Now, is it your understanding that the RCMP is investigating this? And should it? You've just made the point that it verges on criminal.
Kenney: Absolutely the RCMP should investigate. There are conflicting reports at this point as to whether or not they are. Mr. Grewal
Tremonti: Now, they would be investigating your own member as well. (21'00)
Kenney: Mr. Grewal has invited that and, I believe, has submitted the tapes to the RCMP. And Mr. Harper's made it clear that we look forward to cooperating with the criminal investigation.
Tremonti: OK, Jason Kenney, thank-you for talking to us today.
Kenney: My pleasure.
Tremonti: Jason Kenney is the Conservative MP for Calgary South-East, and he spoke to us from Ottawa.