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Corbeil talks about Paul Martin

This past week, when I was watching the testimony of Benoit Corbeil, there was a part of the testimony that I figured would be on the front page of the news, but mysteriously, it wasn’t mentioned in any news story regarding Corbeil’s testimony.

I have found an online translator for the testimony, as it has yet to be translated on the Gomery website. Let it be clear, during the Testimony, Corbeil said that the Liberals would call what we call Ad scam/Sponsorship Program, they called the “Visibility Program”. I have put things in parenthesis to clarify what he is referring to in his testimony. Now, this translation is quite poor, but if you read it you can get the point. Here is how it goes:

Did you have discussions with Mr. Paul Martin about the programme of visibility [sponsorship program] of the federal government in Quebec, and if so, in which circumstances?

Mr. CORBEIL: At the time Mr. Tobin left, I was the organizer in Quebec for Mr. Brian Tobin, and January 2001, Mr. Tobin left the federal political life and -- sorry, I said February -- excuse me, January 2002. And at this time, Lucie Castilli, who was the assistant to Mr. Martin, invited me to ask whether I wished or that Mr. Martin wished to meet me. Therefore, I had a meeting with Mr. Martin at the parliamentary Hill. [The] Minister for Finance [Mr. Martin} and I went to his office on the Hill and we discussed together, Mr. Martin and I, of various subjects, articularly of the organization of the troops on the ground. We also discussed theround because it was something as well as the elected officials -- it is necessary to include/understand is an elected official of Quebec also -- regional round of the minister, and the presence of the federal government in Quebec. These were things that we discussed together, and other things.

I have been trying to figure out what he means by ‘regional rounds of the minister(s). From what I can figure, I think he means that Ministers were supposed to tour around the regions and involve themselves with sponsorship programs that were in their respective ridings. Nonetheless, in my opinion, the Prosecutor was quite soft on Corbeil about his answer to his previous question, almost to the point where he seemed to write off the question:

Me COURNOYER: Then, a completely normal discussion that you could have and that you had with somebody who wished to become the chief of the liberal Party?

Mr. CORBEIL: I.e. Mr. Martin, with the great difference which it had with Mr. Chrétien, it is not in the finality but the strategy to achieve these goals. Mr. Chrétien was centered much on, I would say, a presence of visibility in Quebec, a presence of the federal government via the mixed liability [sponsorship] companies in Quebec. Mr. Martin, his strategy was centered much on integration, an opening of forces, I would say, "nationalists" with the centre of the liberal Party of Canada.

Now, this is where the translation gets tricky. What I get out of is that Chrétien’s strategy was focused on the presence of the sponsorship program in Quebec whereas Corbeils explanation of Martin’s strategy is convoluted at best. I’m not sure what he means by integration and nationalists, but either way, he had a ‘strategy’ for the visibility (sponsorship) program.

Me COURNOYER: But in practice, with Mr. Martin himself, did you have some discussion that it is relative specifically to the [sponsorship program] ompanies and/or the initiative of visibility of the federal government?

Mr. CORBEIL: Always the same thing, Me Cournoyer. One necessarily did not speak about mixed liability companies; one spoke about visibility; one spoke about regional rounds of the ministries. Mr. Martin did ask me the question "it is something which we must preserve? Is it something which is of interest in Quebec?" I said to him "Yes, it is something which is of interest". It was something which bore fruit to Quebec.

So at this point, it seems that Corbeil explains to Martin that the program reaps dividends, and that it should be preserved. At this point, one begins to believe that Martin has knowledge of what the program does and that it’s important but perhaps now how it actually works. This brings up the question, were the leaders (Chrétien and Martin) aware of the program, but perhaps it was specifically designed to keep them out of the loop in how it works, or that there was an intentional ‘Chinese wall’ of sorts, in order to excuse their liability in case this illegal program ever became public. Or, on pure speculation, people were never to actually tell Martin or Chrétien how the scheme actually worked.

Me COURNOYER: Good, when you say beyond the round of the ministers, what concretely you discussed like element visibility?

Good? As in, perfect answer, just like we practiced it? I’ve never heard a prosecutor, say ‘good’ to a witness after he answered a question, unless of course, they had practiced it. It seems odd that Bernard Roy wasn’t questioning this witness, but I digress. The inquisitive mind in me wonders why these answers are so convoluted; yet they seem to be successful in covering topics, for example, let’s talk about Martin but not actually talk about him, if you know what I mean. But this is just my opinion, you can make yours.

Mr. CORBEIL: That it was wrong to consider a withdrawal of the federal government. I did not speak for the government there but I explained the situation. It was wrong to believe that a withdrawal of the strategy of the federal government in the local and regional media was something of negative. I rather said to him it is something of positive that it is necessary to maintain. On the level of the regional round of the ministers, it was something which it was necessary to preserve. It was something which was very positive to see elected officials in area, to see the presence ministers to be present at the time of activities financed by the federal government.

So Mr. Martin was informed that it was wrong to end the sponsorship program?

Me COURNOYER: Therefore, once again, it was a discussion there normal with somebody who was interested in becoming leader of the liberal Party?

Therefore, once again, it seems that the prosecutor is doing his best to rationalize this conversation. Odd.

Mr. CORBEIL: Listen, I do not want to standardize when you say "normal" but it was something which was present. It was something which was as well as Mr. Chrétien, as well as Mr. Martin. It was clear that the presence of the federal government in their spirit, via the program of the mixed liability companies [sponsorship], that of visibility, that regional rounds of the ministers that it had to be maintained (the program) was clear.

This is what I think he is trying to say: Listen I do not want to say it was a ‘normal’ conversation that a person interested in becoming the leader would contain, but those elements were obviously part of it. This seems double speak for, yea we talked about the sponsorship program, but there were other aspects of the conversation that one would expect to have with someone who is aspiring to be a leader of a party. But this is what caught my ear, Corbeil made it clear that in his conversation, it was clear (inferred?) that the program had to be maintained in order for the LP of Quebec to maintain itself, nudge, nudge, wink wink.

I don’t know about you, but this conversation about Mr. Martin and his involvement with the sponsorship program either says two things, that it was an unspoken rule that its mechanics are not to be discussed in detail, for whatever reasons, or this testimony was practiced. His responses seem to be quite convoluted, but this is just conspiratorial thinking on my part. But it does seem that the prosecutor is being overly too conclusive about what the meeting was about. Three times he tries to rationalize it as a ‘discussion’ that was normal between a party executive and a Cabinet minister. Make your own conclusions.

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5/13/2005 12:01:00 AM

I'd be careful of taking Google Language Tools or Babelfish too literally when attempting to parse for hidden meanings. Here's my best shot at a more colloquial translation, i.e. this isn't a transliteration, but it's the best I can do at preserving, in English, the meaning of the original French. Or at least the best I can do near midnight. =)

The prosecutor isn't sweeping aside or trivializing anything. When he's saying "Bon,..." he doesn't mean "Good,..." even though that's the word-for-word translation we all learned in elementary school. In that context, beginning a sentence, it means "OK...". Think of how in English we might say "Right, ...." even though we don't necessarily mean the preceding statement was correct -- it's just a way of acknowledging what's been said and passing to the next point.

Anyway, here's my colloquial translation. If there are inaccuracies, I'm not trying to slander/libel anyone:

Mr. Cournoyer: Did you have discussions with Mr. Paul Martin regarding the federal government program of visibility in Quebec, and if so, under what circumstances?

Mr. Corbeil: When Mr. Tobin left, I was the Québec organizer for Mr. Brian Tobin, and on January 14, 2001, Mr. Tobin retired from political life and -- pardon me, I said February -- excuse me, January 2002. At that time, Lucie Castilli (who was Mr. Martin's assistant) called to ask me if I wanted -- or that Mr. Martin wanted to meet me. So, Mr. Martin and I had a meeting on Parliament Hill when he was Finance Minister and I went to his office on the Hill and we talked of various things, particularly of the organization of our forces on the ground. We also talked about the ministers' regional tour because it came up naturally when discussing the elected officials -- one must understand that [he? -- meaning Mr. Martin? -- there's a word missing] is an elected official of Québec too -- of the ministers' regional tour, and of the federal government's presence in Québec.

These were things we discussed together, among other things.

[Note: I don't believe this tour had anything to do with the sponsorship scandal. These tours are common; they're usually fact-finding or public-consultation regional tours undertaken by ministers responsible for a particular portfolio; see for example http://www.lebulletinregional.com/rubrique/la_une/2005/cifq25042005.html and http://communiques.gouv.qc.ca/gouvqc/communiques/GPQF/Avril2005/15/c6061.html -- this would explain the prosecutor "writing off" the question.]

Cournoyer: So, an entirely normal discussion that you could have had and did have with someone who wanted to become leader of the Liberal Party?

Corbeil: Well, I mean, Mr. Martin, the big difference he had with Mr. Chretien wasn't the goals, it was the strategy for accomplishing those goals. Mr. Chretien leaned heavily towards, I'd call it a visible presence in Quebec, a federal government presence via the sponsorship program. Mr. Martin's strategy leaned much more towards integrating, I'd say parenthetically, "nationalists" into the heart of the Liberal Party of Canada.

[That, to me, is the shocker -- that Martin allegedly wanted to make the Liberal tent big enough to embrace Quebec nationalists! Mind you, I shouldn't be surprised: c.f. Mulroney and Bouchard.]

Cournoyer: But in practice, with Mr. Martin himself, did you have any discussion specifically relating to the sponsorship program and/or the federal government's visibility initiative?

Corbeil: My answer remains the same, Mr. Cournoyer. We didn't necessarily talk about sponsorships; we talked about visibility; we talked about the ministers' regional tours. Mr. Martin asked me: "Is this something we should keep doing? Is it something worthwhile [literally "interesting"] to Quebec?" I told him: "Yes, it's worthwhile." It was something that had borne fruit in Quebec.


Corbeil: OK, when you say above and beyond the ministers' tour, what exactly did you discuss by way of visibility?

Cournoyer: That it was wrong for the federal government to consider withdrawing. I didn't speak for the government, but I explained the situation. It was wrong to think that the federal government's strategy in local and regional media was negative. I told him on the contrary, it was something positive that we should maintain.

The ministers' regional tours were also worth keeping. It was a real plus to see elected officials in the regions, to have them present during activities financed by the federal government.

Corbeil: So, once again, that was a normal discussion with someone who wanted to become leader of the Liberal party?

Cournoyer: Listen, I don't want to trivialize when you call something "normal" but it was something that was there. It was something that was the same for Mr. Chretien as for Mr. Martin. It was clear that the the presence of the federal government in their mind, by way of the sponsorship program, that visibility, the ministers' regional tours, it was clear the program had to be maintained.    

5/13/2005 12:34:00 AM

I concur with Chuck's take on this. As far as context goes, I think it's important to remember that Martin is from Ontario - Calling him fluently bilingual is being charitable. So Chretien understood instinctively what was intended by the sponsorship program; it was probably his creation anyway. Martin on the other hand (judging by this testimony at least) really needed to have it spelled out. As far as legality goes, I find it quite reasonable that Martin really didn't know what was going on behind the scenes to make the sponsorship program work. But I don't believe for a second that Chretien didn't know exactly what was involved - for that reason, he probably made sure to stay "out of the kitchen" as Beryl W. would say. I can think of Martin here as the innocent bystander (yes I know!) who walks down an alley, sees a body sprawled on the pavement and picks up the gun just as the cops show up. I think he's been set up by Chretien loyalists since day one. He's not smart enough or tough enough dream this stuff up , but he's dumb enough to be left standing when the music stops.    

5/13/2005 12:54:00 AM

A postscript to my previous comment: I suspect that Martin was not the preferred choice of the powers that be in the Liberal to succeed suceed Chretien, but for some reason they were unable/unwilling to manipulate the process to prevent it. So if he either a) can't avoid an election or b) doesn't gets a majority government (which I doubt) in the next election, then he's toast. In that case his successor will be the real Emperor. And the question to answer will be: Is Paul Desmarais still the real power broker of the Liberal Party? If not, then who is?    

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