Thursday, June 02, 2005

June 2, 2005 Edmonton Journal: Harper Defends Taping, PM condoned meetings but maintains "no offer was made"

Harper defends Grewal's taping tactics: PM condoned secret talks but maintains 'no offer was made'
Edmonton Journal
Thursday, June 2, 2005
Page: A6
Section: News
Dateline: OTTAWA
Source: CanWest News Service; The Canadian Press; with files from The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Gurmant Grewal's Conservative colleagues privately castigated him Wednesday, but Stephen Harper publicly defended his MP's controversial tactics in exposing alleged Liberal skulduggery.

Grewal's tapes continued to reverberate around Parliament Hill, with Prime Minister Paul Martin admitting he condoned the secret talks between top Liberals and Grewal to join the Grits and was prepared to meet the Tory MP to complete a deal.

But the prime minister maintained he did not authorize an offer to be made to entice Grewal to change parties on the eve of a crucial confidence vote.

"I essentially said to members of the government and my staff that they could pursue discussions, but that under no circumstances could any offer be made and no offer was made," Martin told a raucous House of Commons.

Harper pounced on the shift in Martin's story. "Now he admits he did authorize his senior people to engage in discussions," he said.

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli and Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro are considering investigations into the vote buying-allegations stemming from the secretly taped conversations between Martin's chief of staff Tim Murphy, Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Grewal.

Harper, however, threw his support behind Grewal, contrary to skeptical caucus colleagues, and said he was aware of the negotiations. But he told his B.C. MP not to meet with the prime minister for further discussions.

After meeting on Wednesday with his caucus, Harper explained he first learned Grewal had made audiotapes in a May 17 telephone conversation with the MP. Grewal told Harper the tapes had "damaging" information that could hurt the Prime Minister's Office, the Tory leader recounted in his first public comments about the tape.

Harper said he trusts his MP's stated intentions -- to expose the Grits -- because Grewal was "always clear" he had no plan to abandon the party.

"What the tapes of Mr. Grewal show is exactly the process they use. I think the only issue now is why they (the Liberals) continue to lie about what they've done," Harper said.

While agreeing the Liberals have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, many other Conservatives reacted with public ambivalence and private vitriol to their colleague's ruse. Sources said there's deep distrust of Grewal in caucus and his future in the party was limited even before this incident.

He was taken to task at caucus Wednesday and told his actions were dishonest, wrong and brought disrepute to all politicians. If indeed this was a sting operation, as Grewal maintains, he was told Harper should have been informed from the outset and the negotiations carried on far longer than necessary to obtain incriminating evidence.

There is also a sentiment among some Conservatives that information remains to come out and -- if it turns out Grewal lied to Harper about his involvement with the Liberals -- he should be turfed from the party.

But the Conservative distaste for their own colleague is tempered by their deeper frustration with Martin's suspect history of denials. If Grewal's personal integrity is forever besmirched by the episode, said one, it's a fair exchange for revealing the operating methods of the Prime Minister's Office.

For the record, a host of Conservatives said they would never secretly tape a conversation and several were at pains to keep Grewal at arm's length.

"Is it immoral? I don't think there's any question that selling your soul for a cabinet position, being enticed on the eve of votes, changing the outcome of something as critical as a vote like this -- people have to answer to themselves and look at themselves in the mirror," said deputy leader Peter MacKay, who watched his Tory love interest Belinda Stronach bolt to the Liberal's last month.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who has called on Dosanjh to resign and Murphy to step aside until an investigation is carried out, said Martin should have called in the RCMP immediately upon learning Grewal may have attempted to sell his vote.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said "everyone in this process has plenty to answer for."