Thursday, August 04, 2005

August 4, 2005: G&M: Tories lose bid to rein in MP over Grewal

Tories lose bid to rein in MP over Grewal
B.C. member won't retract comments about colleague's 'antics,' sources say
Thursday, August 4, 2005 Page A10
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF; With a report from Gloria Galloway

The Conservative Party leadership tried and failed to extract a retraction from one of their B.C. MPs, who said recently that the "antics" of controversial MP Gurmant Grewal are hurting the party.

Sources said that John Cummins, MP for the riding of Delta-Richmond East, was asked by party Whip Rob Nicholson to sign a statement renouncing comments he made in a radio interview last month, in which he said Mr. Grewal's "antics have hurt the party." Mr. Cummins told Mr. Nicholson that he would not sign the retraction, the sources said.

In a brief interview, Mr. Cummins would neither confirm nor deny he was asked to retract his remarks, saying the issue was two weeks in the past. Mr. Nicholson also would not comment.

However, the issue will almost certainly come up for discussion at today's Tory summer caucus meeting in Toronto.

Although no other Tory MPs have spoken against Mr. Grewal in the controversy over tapes he made of discussions with senior Liberals about crossing the floor, some, such as deputy leader Peter MacKay, refused to support him on the matter.

The Grewal controversy has bubbled beneath the surface since the member for Newton-North Delta secretly taped two senior Liberals -- Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Paul Martin's chief of staff, Tim Murphy -- during discussions to get him to cross to their side of the House.

Last week, Mr. Grewal admitted in a written statement that Stephen Harper told him to stop taping talks with senior Liberals about leaving the Tories, a demand that was apparently made before Mr. Grewal's taped meeting with the senior Liberals.

Mr. Harper has not commented on the matter, but the party leaders continue to be sensitive about it, seeking the retraction from Mr. Cummins and, most recently, asking Mr. Grewal for public clarification of statements about the taping that he made to a newspaper in his riding.

One MP told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Harper's defence of Mr. Grewal has harmed the party's efforts to criticize the Liberals for ethical lapses.

"If you don't deal with it, it makes it much more difficult for you to turn around and criticize the government for its actions. And I think that's the issue," the MP said. "If Grewal was a minister they'd be going after him like there was no tomorrow."

But Peter Van Loan, a Conservative MP from Ontario, said that he does not believe Canadians are focused on the Grewal saga.

"I have spoken to literally thousands of people, and I don't think Mr. Grewal's name has come up once," said Mr. Van Loan, who has been going door to door in his York-Simcoe riding since the Commons broke for the summer.

He said most of the discussion at today's meeting is likely to centre on ways to communicate party policy before the coming election. "I think there's an increasing curiosity and appetite to hear what we would like to do in government."

The Conservatives continue to trail the Liberals in most opinion polls by about 10 percentage points. Those trends are also reflected in the voting intentions in British Columbia, a key part of the Tories' western stronghold, although polling experts said the sample sizes in most of those polls are too small to count on.

Tim Woolstencroft, managing partner of polling firm the Strategic Counsel, said the increasing popularity of the New Democrats may be eating into Tory support.

He added that the Tories may find themselves having to spend more time in B.C. in the next campaign than they would like. To win the election, Mr. Harper must expand the party's popularity in Ontario, an increasingly difficult prospect if he is obliged to protect the party's heartland seats in B.C.

For a discussion of this and other stories related to Gurmant Grewal, his tapes, and other scandals follow this link.