Saturday, June 04, 2005

June 4, 2005: Edmonton Journal Reports, Ethics Watchdog To Probe Grewal Tapes

Ethics watchdog to probe Grewal tapes: Martin's top aide not included in parliamentary investigation
Edmonton Journal
Saturday, June 4, 2005
Page: A5
Section: News
Byline: Allan Woods
Dateline: OTTAWA
Source: CanWest News Service

OTTAWA -- Parliament's ethics watchdog has launched a formal probe of secretly taped conversations involving senior Liberals and a Tory MP, but Bernard Shapiro said he has no power to investigate the prime minister's chief of staff, who was a key player in the negotiations.

"I wish to remind you that my investigative powers do not allow me to conduct inquiries on public office holders other than ministers, ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries," Shapiro, the ethics commissioner, wrote in a letter to NDP whip Yvon Godin, who requested the review.

"My inquiry will not, therefore, deal with any issue involving (the PM's Chief of Staff Tim) Murphy, as such an inquiry is outside the purview of my mandate."

The decision means only British Columbia Conservative Gurmant Grewal and Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh will go under the microscope in the taping scandal, in which all three men appear to barter Grewal's vote on a House of Commons confidence motion last month for an overseas diplomatic post and a Senate appointment for him and his wife, Nina, who is also a Tory MP.

Opposition parties said Shapiro's limited mandate means there is no way, save for an RCMP investigation being sought by the Bloc Quebecois, to hold Prime Minister Paul Martin's top adviser to account for the allegedly questionable conduct.

Geoff Norquay, a senior Harper spokesman, said Murphy could have come under investigation only if the NDP had taken the dramatic step of demanding the prime minister be investigated for an ethics breach. Norquay refused to endorse such a measure, saying it would appear to be an overly partisan move.

"If the investigation starts with the elected representative, then the actions of staff are fair game for the ethics commissioner," Norquay said. "I don't think anybody would believe that the staff of MPs operate independently. They are, in effect, an extension of the MP."

If Shapiro finds Dosanjh to have committed an ethics breach, Murphy should be punished too, said Karl Belanger, a spokesman for the NDP. "In our view Dosanjh and Murphy are both involved in this."

PMO spokesman Scott Reid said the prime minister takes full responsibility for his staff, and said "one presumes that all key questions will be answered" by the ethics commissioner.

But he said with each passing day, it is the Tories whose credibility suffers.

The Conservatives and the Liberals continued their attacks over the tape scandal in the Commons on Friday with all three opposition parties calling for the firing or resignation of Dosanjh and Murphy, and the NDP calling on Tory Leader Stephen Harper to similarly rebuke his backbencher.

But while the government maintains there is no basis for Dosanjh and Murphy to step aside, some Tory support for Grewal appears to have cooled because a "technical problem" caused the omission of two exchanges from the tapes, one of which features Grewal saying if he joins the Liberals: "I want to be someone up there."

On Thursday the Conservatives loaded an updated version of the recordings, which they said were complete, onto the MP's website.

The government seized on the inconsistencies Friday, presenting an "independent audio expert," a retired RCMP and CSIS sound engineer, to reveal a third problem in the original Grewal tape.

The government paid approximately $1,500 to have the retired sound engineer examine one section of one recording (out of four). He told reporters in a hastily arranged news conference he found an identical repeat involving the word "tea cup," but did not have sufficient time to look for any other new, or more incriminating, discrepancies.

Deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay said the problems discovered in the recordings are a "red herring" and do not clear the two Liberals of allegedly trying to buy the votes of an elected official.

However, MacKay refused to vouch for Grewal, something Harper did earlier this week. Harper continued to stand by Grewal on Friday.

"Gurmant's story is clearly what happened, it corresponds with all the evidence that's on the tapes," said Harper, who was in Calgary.

"We've taken a close look at the tape. There are a couple of minor glitches in the transposition between technologies and transcription and they've been corrected and they've made no difference to the story."

Layton on Friday called upon Martin and Harper to "take some action within their own environment" to affect a return to civility and decorum in the Commons.

He said Dosanjh should give up his cabinet post until Shapiro clears him of suspicion. "This is what Judy Sgro did when she was under investigation by the ethics commissioner."