(This column was published in the North Shore News on Feb. 16, 2000)


Digging deeper into Shovelgate

By Leo Knight

THE ongoing Shovelgate saga may yet prove to be the undoing of Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his party of trough-dwellers.  


It's beginning to look like it may well be the political version of the Death of a Thousand Cuts.  


When this scandal first broke, Chretien told caucus members it would blow over in a few days. He also adamantly defended his protege, Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart.  


At the Liberal pre-session caucus meeting, Chretien told the assembled bootlicks that Stewart's head would not roll for this. He then gave each of them the spin they were to use when speaking to the media: "It's not a lot of money, it's only 37 projects totalling about three million dollars that's being questioned."  


After a couple of sycophants spoke glowingly of Stewart's undoubted qualities (the only one which comes to mind is the fact she was the fruit of the loins of Ontario Lib bigwig Robert Nixon) Chretien made a show of thanking them for their support.  


One caucus member was questioned about the apparent solidarity in spite of the evidence of gross mismanagement at best and outright fraud at worst.  


He spit back at his questioner, "Yeah, it's true. We always eat the sh** together. The problem is when there is pie, it's always eaten in Brant (Stewart's riding) or Shawinigan (Chretien's riding)."  


Could it be there are starting to be some chinks in the armour?  


When the Commons resumed sitting after a Christmas respite of only seven or eight weeks the Reformers and the erstwhile Progressive Conservatives, took aim directly at Stewart. And for the first three days of the firestorm Chretien took the heat for Stewart.  


But that was then and this is now.  


Even the Bloc Quebecois, who began the week asking questions about the Clarity Act and insults to le pur laine, hopped on the bandwagon when they realized how bad the Liberals, their arch-enemies, were looking in this matter.  


Bloc leader, Gilles Duceppe, even managed to sound indignant in spite of the fact his province benefited like no other from HDRC's largesse.  


Chretien went missing from the House of Commons for the last two days of the week, leaving Stewart twisting in the wind like a rotting gamebird. What happened to the stalwart defense by the man who could defuse any criticism with little more than a shrug and a joke?  


Perhaps it was the allegations of fraud by Tory MP Jean Dube. It seems the Liberals received $150,000 in political contributions in 1997 and 1998 from organizations that had been the beneficiaries of $27 million in federal job grants from Stewart's ministry. Or maybe it was the revelations that private sector giants like Wal-Mart and Adidas got job creation grants.  


The Shovelgate pot is bubbling over and the PM has now realized it's not going to be easy to get it back to simmer.  


The spin from the PMO is nothing more than codswallop and should be treated with the disdain it deserves.  


The problem here is twofold.  


First, neither the PM nor Jane Stewart will tell us the truth.  


Twice this week, both Chretien and Stewart were called liars outside the House where qualified privilege for such remarks is not provided and nary a word is uttered in protest.  


The second is the failure to defend the accusations made in Shovelgate.  


The Lib's believe in big government. There's not a taxpayer who can't be bribed with his own money. Jobs for the boys and a packet of dough for anyone who can help us get elected.  


At the outset the belief that a government, any government, can create jobs by shovelling money at projects is simply ludicrous.  


The only jobs government can create are government jobs, something the Libs have done to a fare-thee-well. They don't understand that fact now; they never have and they never will.  


Bureaucracy by its definition begets itself. In a bureaucracy, work grows exponentially by the number of people there is to do it. Don't believe me?  


A couple of months ago, in late October, letters were written by no less a figure than an assistant deputy minister in Stewart's department.  


It seems they have been having a problem figuring out why some people had not applied for their old age pensions.  


The letter, which begins with the following: "the Minister of Human Resources Development Canada, the Honourable Jane Stewart, has asked us to contact all contributors who are over 65 years old but who have not yet requested their CPP retirement pension."  


The letter is addressed to Susan Sunderland of North Vancouver, born in 1904. It may not surprise you to learn that the letter was never opened by Ms. Sunderland. You see, she passed away 17 years ago.  


The assistant deputy minister who signed the letter is Victor Rabinovitch. Hmmm, Rabinovitch, that's a familiar name. Oh yeah, Bob Rabinovitch, career civil servant who somehow made millions when babysitting the son of Charles Bronfman after Brian Mulroney came to power and cleaned house, is the head of the CBC.  


In fact, Victor is Bob's brother. He used to be in Sheila Copps' heritage ministry as an assistant deputy minister. He moved to his current position, not because of any special skill set or competence. Oh no, it was to avoid a potential conflict of interest having his brother run the CBC, which is overseen by Copps' crew.  


Then, a little further checking showed another Rabinovitch over at the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. Let's see, one family member responsible for taking money in while the other works for the department that doles it out. That's a handy little arrangement.  


Any others? Well, yes, but space is limited.  


All of this happens because we, as Canadians, let it. People should be screaming from the parapets. But they're not -- yet. This is not "little accounting problems" as the PMO would have you believe. This is corruption by any definition, criminal behaviour that screams for an independent investigation.  


Is Shovelgate ultimately what it takes to get the people of this country upset?






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