Wednesday, June 08, 2005

June 8, 2005: Nina says she had nothing to do with the talks

The Toronto Star
June 8, 2005 Wednesday

HEADLINE: Not part of talks, Nina Grewal says

BYLINE: Sean Gordon Ottawa Bureau, Toronto Star

After more than two weeks of silence, Tory MP Nina Grewal says she had nothing to do with secret talks between her husband and senior Liberals concerning patronage plums in return for helping the government win a crucial vote.

Though Grewal has been conspicuously tight-lipped since allegations first surfaced of a possible Senate seat as a reward for her support in last month's budget vote, the Star caught up with the rookie MP in a Parliament Hill hallway.

Controversy has dogged her husband Gurmant Grewal since news first broke that he secretly taped conversations last month with the Liberals. Since then, allegations have surfaced that tapes of those discussions have been altered and that Grewal asked passengers on a flight from Vancouver to Ottawa this weekend to take a package for him. The Star yesterday confirmed the package contained another secret tape of his conversations with the Liberals.

While her husband clearly talked about an appointment to the Senate for her, Nina Grewal told the Star yesterday "nobody approached me, I wasn't part of any negotiations."

But even if she wasn't party to the actual discussions, there are indications she knew they were taking place.

According to the tapes made by Gurmant Grewal, he claimed to have consulted his wife about switching parties, adding "but we are not decided, we have not made up our minds yet." The Grewals, the first husband-and-wife team of MPs in Canadian history, both represent British Columbia ridings.When asked about the fact that her husband appeared to be bartering her job on her behalf - transcripts of the tapes also show it is understood that both MPs were to be part of any eventual deal - Grewal said: "I have no comment."

But the mere fact Nina Grewal wasn't privy to the discussions concerning her future has raised concerns with the Commons' other female Sikh MP.

Liberal Ruby Dhalla (Brampton-Springdale) said: "Being a progressive Sikh and a progressive woman, I think she should speak for herself."

She also said that the entire episode risks cementing negative stereotypes that Indo-Canadian women are subservient to the wishes of their husbands.

"I've spoken to many other community leaders, both male and female, and all of them thought it's really unfortunate that he was speaking on her behalf. I mean, they're two separate people. It's not a buy one, get one free situation," she said, pointing out that Nina Grewal is vice-chair of an all-party parliamentary sub-committee on the status of women.Gurmant Grewal returned Monday night to Vancouver on a "temporary stress leave."

Despite his withdrawal from the political scene, which came about after a tense meeting with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Nina Grewal said her husband is feeling just fine.

"He's in high spirits," Nina Grewal said. "We're both still fighting for the right cause."

Grewal stepped forward on the eve of the May 19 budget vote with allegations he and his wife had been offered plum appointments in exchange for abstaining on a motion that could have toppled the minority government.

This weekend, he ran into trouble at Vancouver airport trying to rush audio tapes to Ottawa after angry Conservative officials discovered he hadn't given them all the recordings of his secretly taped negotiations with Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, the Prime Minister's chief of staff.

Late last week, Harper's aides learned from media reports that Grewal had not turned over the full record of his talks with the Liberals to the Tory leader's office.

Responding to demands that he send the missing tapes to Harper immediately, Grewal allegedly entered a restricted area at the airport on June 4 to hunt for a passenger to deliver an envelope containing the recordings to Ottawa.

As news of that incident erupted on Monday, Harper was still reluctant to sanction Grewal. But that all changed when Grewal, in a meeting with Harper, claimed he had not given the tapes to anyone to have them carried to Ottawa for him.

By then, Harper's office already knew that Air Canada had sent Grewal a formal letter about the incident.

Air Canada and federal authorities are investigating to see whether Grewal's actions violated airport security regulations and the MP has been barred from using the Maple Leaf business-class lounge, sources said. Grewal denies any wrongdoing.

Harper had defended Grewal for conducting what the Tory leader characterized as a justified sting operation designed to show Prime Minister Paul Martin's government was trying to lure away opposition MPs.

Even on Monday, when the Conservatives were faced with mounting evidence the tapes had been doctored, Harper was reluctant to oust Grewal from the Tory caucus.

Harper didn't want to be seen to be throwing an MP to the wolves and he was sensitive to charges that he lacks the finesse to keep his Conservative colleagues in line. That accusation surfaced after Belinda Stronach quit the party to join the Liberals.

Yesterday, the Liberals were not mollified by the decision to put Grewal on stress leave.

"You don't need an inquiry to realize that this Member of Parliament shows that he has no judgment. You don't go around the VIP lounge to ask people to carry a letter for you to Ottawa," said Transport Minister Jean Lapierre.

Transport Canada confirmed yesterday that it has launched an investigation into what happened at the airport. If rules were broken, fines could be levied, a spokesperson said.Sources say officials are also investigating whether Grewal obtained his boarding card "under false pretences" to gain access to a secure area of the airport so he could hand over an envelope.