(This column was published in the North Shore News on Mar. 24, 2004)
The former minister who knew too little
By Leo Knight
He is indebted to his memory for his jests and to his imagination for his facts.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751 -1816)
IT'S hard to come to grips with the apparent contempt in which former minister of Public Works, Alfonso Gagliano holds Parliament and the people of this country.
Gagliano appeared before the public accounts committee looking into the scathing report by Auditor General Sheila Fraser.
Gagliano staggered and lurched from unbelievable denial to pleas of incredible incompetence, saying he didn't actually run his vast department, but rather acted merely as a spokesman.
He also assumed the mantle of a victim.
No one, you see, has suffered more than he in the sponsorship scandal which hangs around the neck of Prime Minister Paul Martin like a millstone.
Why, Gagliano can't go to a shopping mall without fear of being accosted, said he.
Out of curiosity, did anyone notice the minders he had with him as he left the committee room?
Gagliano tried to pin the blame on the bureaucrats responsible.
Most notably he tried to pin the blame on his own deputy minister Ranald Quail.
Gagliano said he was unaware of the "financial irregularities."
When Gagliano was made aware of some problems, he testified that he ordered an audit.
But wait, when the audit was delivered in 2000, he testified he didn't read it.
Now, bear in mind Gagliano is an accountant by trade.
In fact, prior to being elected to Parliament, he was the accountant for at least two legitimate companies of Augustino Cuntrera.
I suppose I should point out, Cuntrera is the de facto godfather of the Caruana - Cuntrera Mafia family.
Now, with all the attention to detail that role dictates, does it seem even remotely possible that Gagliano did not read the internal audit report?
I read it.
It's only 21 pages long.
It would have been an easy read for a guy like him.
He could have skimmed it in the back of a limo while being ferried in style from Ottawa to his riding in Montreal.
Gagliano tried to make a big deal of the fact that he ordered the report when first he learned there might be a problem with the way his department was doling out the public's dough.
That's why I couldn't help but notice the first paragraph of the report which describes its raison d'etre.
At the start of the executive summary, it outlines as its authority: "This directed audit was conducted at the request of the deputy minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada."
Well, Quail, the deputy minister in question, had his own say at the committee hearings.
He said Gagliano bypassed him on the day-to-day handling of the sponsorship program.
"He (Gagliano) had direct approval to proceed and get this done," Quail testified before the committee.
Apparently there's a little difference between the bureaucrat who actually ordered the audit of the program and the former minister who claims he did, yet says he never read the audit.
Who to believe?
In all of this, there seems to be a question which has yet to be asked, "Where has all the money gone?"
I mean really, does it seem credible that the Liberals are just such good folks and that they allowed all this largesse for their pals?
Sure, you're a buddy, here's a few million bucks.
I think not.
I think that that money had to be contributed back to the coffers of the Liberal Party of Canada, at least in part, and into the private bank accounts of individuals who exercised control.
Bank on it.
I watched with much amusement the protest march on the weekend, marking the one year anniversary of the war in Iraq.
The crowd was solidly left and markedly anarchist and Marxist for the most part it seems.
The loony left even resurrected Che Gueverra for many of the posters which flew in the early spring breeze.
And, if that wasn't enough, they trooped in the American anarchist high priest Noam Chomsky to preach to the converted.
Quite the show.
What I found really interesting was the depiction of the numbers though.
Global TV called it at 10,000.
On the local CTV news broadcast later that night, anchor Bridgitte Anderson breathlessly pegged it at 20,000.
Wow, that's quite an increase.
On Monday, radio talk show host Bill Good split the difference and called it at 15,000.
How to separate the wheat from the chaff here?
Let's check in with the Vancouver Police Department who, ahem, said there were "about 6,000" marchers.
You don't suppose there's any ulterior motives on the part of the media now do you?