The Duffster may have a slight conflict of interest in that he was a Mulroney favorite during Mulroney's years as prime minister, according to Stevie Cameron in On the Take... but I don't think he's being partial. His sentiment was echoed by many of the pundits who spoke out today. Another frequently offered opinion was that the Ethics committee did a bad job today; that Shreiber played them for fools; and that an American congressional committee would have been much more professional and effective.
I watched the testimony live this afternoon, and I saw something quite different. The committee members asked questions I wanted to hear and they asked them well. They didn't seem overly partisan and they stuck to the goal of finding the truth. The committee - and in particular its chair, Peter Szabo - were so concilliatory and even kind to Schreiber that they might even have led him to say more than he intended. He started by passing on each question. Slowly, he started to talk. The atmosphere was so non-confrontational that he seemed to fall into the trap of trying to charm the committee.
Okay, he didn't say much - but he said a few things deliberately (for example, that his agreement with Mulroney was for $500K but he withheld $200K of it), and he let a few things slip (like Mulroney telling him that Harper had read his 2006 letter). I think the committee did a very effective job. This is just Day 1, and I have a good feeling about the ongoing testimony next week.
As to the comparison with the US, I've been watching congressional inquiries and senate confirmation hearings since Watergate, and they're generally awful. They usually go something like this: a senator has X minutes to ask a question; he uses almost all the time posturing about what a Great Man he is; then in the closing seconds he asks a question in a querulous manner which the questionee bats away easily. (The best example of this was the Bork Supreme Court confirmation hearings; Bork demolished senator after senator, even though it was a case of winning all the battles but losing the war.)
Bob Rae and Jean Chretien have said that the terms of the public inquiry should be very narrow, and I know that they both know a whole lot more than I do. But I can't agree with them. This is a very unusual and serious situation. We have a scandal that has been inadequately addressed by the RCMP in part because a former prime minister lied in court about his role in it. We have a current government who has been threatening to extradite the main witness before we can get testimony from him. We needed the extraordinary use of parliamentary powers to bring Schreiber before the Ethics committee immediately; and we need a wide-ranging public inquiry.
Here are some of the things I think we need to figure out, through a combination of the Ethics committee hearings, public inquiry and RCMP investigation:
- Should we prosecute Mulroney for perjury in his defamation case?
- Should we act to get our $2.1 million back from Mulroney from the defamation case?
- Should we prosecute Mulroney for making an agreement while he was PM to get $500K from an arms dealer and/or taking receipt of some of the money while an MP?
- What exactly was the agreement between Schreiber and Mulroney that Mulroney was supposed to get $500K for? Schreiber has said that he tended to pay money to people after they helped him, rather than before. Today he made an odd comment about the payment being partly for Mulroney's support of German reunification. Was there anything else Mulroney did while PM that Schreiber was "greasing his palm" for? (There is evidence that Mulroney was pushing Bear Head as early as 1990.)
- Who got the Airbus bribes? When and how much? What did they do for them? We know that Schreiber distributed $10 million in Canada. We know that Mulroney fired all Air Canada directors and installed new ones when he became PM (and it was the new directors who approved the Airbus deal). We know that Frank Moores was directly involved in the Airbus deal. We need to connect the dots.
- Who else got money from Schreiber and why?
- There was an attempted cover-up (we know this because of the 2006 letter that Mulroney and Elmer MacKay got Schreiber to sign). What was the extent of the cover-up and who else (other than Elmer and Mulroney) was involved? Elmer used Defence Minister Peter MacKay's constituency office equipment in the cover-up: how serious is that? What did Harper know?