Canada’s one-time Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is not stupid. He may be arrogant, slick and self-serving, but he’s not stupid. Like any professional lawyer/politician he’s all of those things and more, but not stupid. But is he clean?
After over a week of testifying in the Karlheinz Schreiber inquiry some of the Teflon that he has been wrapped in has become a little smudged. A light coating of mud seems to be sticking and the gist of his testimony reminds me of another national leader’s proclamation: “I am not a crook!”.
I met Mulroney when I lived in Whitehorse, Yukon. He came to speak there before he was elected Prime Minister and I was invited to go by a lawyer friend who also wanted me to become active in the Conservative party. I was impressed by what Mulroney said, how he said it and how he answered questions. I thought to myself that this guy’s really got what it takes. I’ll work for him and vote for him. Mea culpa.
Today I say this guy’s had it. At best he’s a very tarnished ex-Prime Minister. As elicited point by painful point by Mr. Wolson, the Oliphant inquiry’s counsel, if Brian Mulroney is not outright dishonest then he is the next legal thing to it.
“Smarmy” is probably a good description of his overall performance in the witness chair. While there are discrepancies in his testimony with others testifying and with the public record, it’s all history anyway, so what’s the big deal? I agree, but the money he received from Mr. Schreiber still intrigues me.
He received a total of $225,000 in cash in three brown envelopes, split among three occasions, in hotel room meetings with Mr. Schreiber. Then he stashed them away for six years out of sight in a safe and a safety deposit box. Why squirrel the money away and admit only under pressing circumstances that he received it? What’s the problem If everything was above board, clean and without fault?
Hmmmm….. Reminds me of other, earlier testimony by Mulroney. Wolson asked him why he had not mentioned the money then – it was pertinent to the line of that inquiry. Mulroney answered that the lawyer who did the examination had not asked the right question, so he was technically correct in not mentioning the money. Hmmm… again. What happened to the concept of “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”?
Ok, maybe it was all technically legal as Mulroney claims, but does that make it right for an ex-Prime Minister to get into a situation where he gets tarnished with a major whiff of scandal? Shouldn’t an ex-Prime Minister deport himself in a way that his actions are always not only legal but also above reproach? Maybe I expect too much. After all, he was a politician…
If you boil the money part of the Mulroney/Schreiber affair down to a few key points, then this is what remains:
1. ‘Way back when, Brian said he had hardly heard of Mr. Schreiber.
2. A little later in testimony on another, earlier occasion, he claimed that he never had business dealings with Mr. Schreiber.
3. Later yet, he admitted that he may have met Schreiber several times over a cup of coffee.
4. During the present inquiry it turns out that very shortly after he left public office he met Schreiber three times in anonymous hotel rooms, where Schreiber gave him a total of $225,000 in cash, bundled in brown envelopes. A bunch of thousand dollar bills, no less.
5. Mulroney then put this cash in his cottage safe and into a safe deposit box in New York and let it sit there for six years. Even in an ordinary savings account, he would have made a minimum of $50,000 in just five years. Invest it for a reasonable return of around 10% and that’s a whole different, several-hundred-thousand-dollar-ballgame. I guess he wasn’t interested in money….. Or was there more at stake?
6. Then, when he heard that Schreiber might raise a stink and claim that Mulroney evaded taxes, his lawyers hurried to make a deal with the taxman where Mulroney paid taxes on only half of the amount. The money finally came out of the closet six years after being paid.
7. He also sort of claims that he should have had to pay zero taxes on the amount because this was just a retainer and he did no work for it. Whether he did or didn’t do work for it, as well as exactly what that work might have been, is unclear. It is, however, completely clear that he must have given something in return. The only question is what.
So was Mulroney dirty and underhanded? We don’t know, and the hard evidence is missing. Would I trust him? Not likely. Would I hire him as my lawyer/advisor? Absolutely, if I had to wiggle out of something and had lots of money.
Am I sorry that I voted for him? Not really, because several good things happened under his administration. To name just a couple, he presided over the implementation of the NAFTA and he introduced the GST, a very sensible tax on consumption and not income.
My opinion of Brian Mulroney has certainly hit the cellar, but overall, my opinion of politicians has not changed. The profession attracts the slickest of the slick – did yesterday, does today, and probably always will. That’s politics and that’s Brian Mulroney.
© Copyright George Salmins 2009