The man who exposed the infamous Adscam sponsorship scandal in which millions of dollars in public funds were paid to, then misused by Liberal-friendly advertising firms in Québec told The Post Millennial the current imbroglio involving a shunted Justice minister and construction giant SNC-Lavalin shares “one stark similarity.”
Allan Cutler, a former civil servant who blew the whistle on bid-rigging and political interference at the Department of Public Works during Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s tenure said the then-Public Works minister Diane Marleau wouldn’t play ball with PMO operative Chuck Guité – head of the sponsorship program – so Chrétien just swapped her out for a more pliant Québec MP, Alfonso Gagliano.
“It’s the removal of a person who objects to not following proper procedure,” said Cutler, comparing Marleau’s plight to that of Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was relieved of her duties as Attorney General by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on January 14. “So when all of a sudden Guité is dealing with a minister who won’t go along with what they’re doing, they remove her."
SNC-Lavalin and two of its subsidiaries are accused of paying $48 million in bribes to Libyan officials to win contracts there between 2001 and 2011.
After a February Globe and Mail story alleged former Attorney General Wilson-Raybould resisted pressure by the Prime Minister’s Office to defer SNC-Lavalin’s charges to remediation – a new criminal code provision shoehorned into the 2018 omnibus budget legislation – she was replaced by Québec MP David Lametti.
Wilson-Raybould still maintains that “solicitor-client privilege” restricts her ability to publicly address discussions between her and the Prime Minister’s Office regarding SNC-Lavalin, however Marleau was not hindered by similar caveats.
During her March 25, 2004 testimony to the Public Accounts committee following Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s report that found between 1997 and 2003 $100 million was paid to ad companies for little or no work, Marleau offered a window into the abuse of power at the highest levels.
“When I arrived, Mr. (Chuck) Guité said that he reported to the office of the Minister. I refused to go along, insisting that he follow the normal program guidelines,” said Marleau in answer to a question about Guité’s reputation as ‘boast(ing) about being in regular contact with the Office of the Prime Minister’.
“It was essential that an employee occupying a position such as that of Mr. Guité not report directly to the minister, because that would have the effect of removing various checks and balances, and the sound management of a department is essential.”
Guité was convicted on five counts of defrauding the government and sentenced to 42 months in prison; Gagliano was excoriated in the Gomery Report on the scandal as a liar – Chrétien’s successor Paul Martin would later recall Gagliano from his diplomatic posting in Denmark and expel him from the Liberal Party for life.
“Now Trudeau could’ve kept [Wilson-Raybould] there but he does a cabinet shuffle, he moves her out and that’s what happened with Diane Marleau, she was moved out and that allowed Gagliano to move in,” said Cutler. “To me it feels very much like the same situation – you won’t cooperate so you’re going to be pushed out of the way."
Whether Lametti would defer charges against SNC-Lavalin to remediation is highly unlikely said Cutler, but he noted the fact Wilson-Raybould is invoking solicitor-client privilege, indicates there was indeed a discussion about SNC-Lavalin between the PMO and the then-attorney general Wilson-Raybould.
“There can’t be a client-solicitor privilege with regards to talking to the prime minister if it never happened, how can you have a privilege for a non-conversation?” said Cutler who downplayed the importance of whether attorney general dealings with the government cabinet is protected by solicitor-client privilege. “I’m not worried about whether it exists … if there was no conversation, it couldn’t exist.”
Cutler also credited Wilson-Raybould for attempting to bring transparency big government.
“It seems from what I can follow is she’s taking a very high, ethical road and not just playing politics and more power to her. There are not many politicians who do that,” he said. “It has to do with the issue of transparency … corruption is bred behind closed doors and it appears we have a lot of closed doors going on.”
So in terms of corruption in government, are things in Ottawa getting better or worse?
“I was getting optimistic but I’m very pessimistic now. I don’t see any change in the party in power between the last time and this time,” Cutler said. “And the more I watch the more I see nothing’s learned so I guess I’m becoming very pessimistic.”
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