oliphant inquiry 225000 accounted for 19.75 million still to go

Now that the $14-million Oliphant Inquiry has done its job, Canada has official confirmation of what was obvious all along.

Now that the $14-million Oliphant Inquiry has done its job, Canada has official confirmation of what was obvious all along. It was “inappropriate” for former prime minister Brian Mulroney to accept cash-stuffed envelopes from arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber. Do tell!

Furthermore, we now know officially that Mulroney’s claim that he had only met Schreiber a couple of times for “coffee” was false, and that his assertion that he only made this false statement in court because the prosecutor wasn’t doing his job was a “ludicrous” excuse.

That’s about all there seems to be to learn from two years of work. It’s not much considering anyone with half an eye could see both those facts for free. But the Oliphant Inquiry did fulfill its true mandate: to stall for time till Schreiber was in a German prison and could not be called upon to testify to the real question that concerns Canadians: what happened to the $20 million in Schmiergelter, or grease money, that Schreiber claims to have ladled around Canada’s Conservative establishment while securing the Airbus deal?

Was there ever any doubt about the inherent sleaze of those cash-stuffed envelopes? Did Canadians ever really feel like it was fair for the former PM to walk away with $2 million of our cash because his name was on an RCMP request for information? Now that we know – as if we didn’t know already – that he deliberately withheld information that would surely have prejudiced his case, is there any reasonable taxpayer that doesn’t want the money back?

One of the most offensive details of the whole sordid affair is that Mulroney appears to have committed several offenses that would have got a less wealthy and influential person into a whole lot of trouble. After he accepted cash from Schreiber in a US hotel room, he crossed the border back into Canada without declaring it. He failed to declare it on his taxes for five years, until he could hide it no longer. He took at least one payment while he was still an MP, and failed to disclose it.

As to the notorious cup-of-coffee remark, it runs perilously close to perjury, given that it represented a clear denial, under oath, that Mulroney and Schreiber had ever had any business dealings.

But the fact that the country is talking about the Mulroney sleaze factor and leaving aside the larger question about who got the rest of the Airbus millions, and when, and how much, is a great victory for Stephen Harper. By circumscribing Oliphant’s mandate so that he could not look deeper than the specific dealings of two old sleazebags, Harper shelved what could have been his very own sponsorship scandal.

If only Paul Martin had thought to limit the sponsorship inquiry to the dealings of one Quebec advertising firm, the Conservatives would, if nothing else, be robbed of their favourite taunt in Parliament. The multimillion-dollar scandal that has tainted an entire party for years past and will for years to come would have been reduced to a few sleazoid cash-stuffed envelopes and a couple of yesterday’s men.

Schreiber is a suspect source of information. A convicted criminal, an arms dealer, and one of those shady behind-the-scenes characters who populate the world of corporate-backed politics, his stories need to be taken with a grain of salt. Likewise Brian Mulroney, who dare not sit too close to the truth, lest his family’s good name be scorched. But there is evidence to show that Mulroney’s $300,000, or $225,000, depending on which sleazy story you believe, was only a drop in a very large bucket, and we have no idea where the many other drops ended up.

Does Canada have an appetite to pour out more millions trying to trace the Airbus grease money? Probably not. But if we were to sue Mulroney, as surely we should, for the $2 million, plus interest, plus the cost of the Oliphant distraction, we’d have a fairly large sum in hand with which to pursue the truth.

The truth – now there’s a scare commodity in Ottawa these days. Surely rarity alone makes it valuable enough to explore.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.