Call it a bad day at the office for Liberal leader Stephane Dion

Just hinting that disgraced party members could be reinstated was a bad idea

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Friday, January 26, 2007

Stephane Dion is getting some on-the-job training in message discipline and damage control.

In Quebec City this week for a meeting of the national Liberal caucus, Dion stopped by Le Soleil for an interview with their editorial board.

One of the journalists asked how he felt about the possibility of reinstating Marc-Yvan Cote as a member of the party. Cote was one of 10 Liberals Paul Martin expelled from the part for life for their roles in the sponsorship scandal.

"It's certain that you can't exclude for life people who've committed errors," Dion replied. "And even, I believe, recognized his error."

Just when Adscam was dead and buried, it the new Liberal leader unwittingly resuscitated it.

Marc-Yvan Cote was no bit player. Not in Quebec City, where was the legendary chief organizer for eastern Quebec for the Quebec Liberals in the 1980s and the federal Liberals in the 1990s. Not in the sponsorship scandal, where he picked up $120,000 cash to spread around his ridings in the 1997 election, the one in which the Liberals stole a majority. And not at the Gomery commission, where he was a star witness.

In his report, Who Is Responsible?, Judge John Gomery named Cote as one of those who "deserve to be blamed for their misconduct. They disregarded the relevant laws governing donations to political parties."

As for the others Martin kicked out of the party, Le Soleil reported Dion "spontaneously pointed out Jean Pelletier 'won in court,'" in his suit against the government for improper dismissal as CEO of Via Rail.

Dion went on to call Jean Chretien's former chief of staff, also a onetime mayor of Quebec City, "a great public servant." Dion is not wrong about that. Pelletier ran a very efficient and functional Prime Minister's Office. He probably should have known more about what was going down in Adscam, as Gomery suggested, but he was never involved in any of it.

Yet what about the others, including Alfonso Gagliano? Are they to be welcomed back into the fold? You see where this is going - video vignettes from the Gomery commission, Chuck Guite, Joe Morselli, Jean Lafleur, Jacques Corriveau, Benoit Corbeil, and the gang. Cutting up cash in restaurants. Briefcases of cash in the trunk of Cote's car.

Yikes!

The Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois couldn't get to the microphones fast enough.

Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe came back to a question that was never answered at the Gomery commission, or in the House.

"Who are these people who received money illegally, as admitted by Mr. Cote?" Duceppe demanded, adding a dig at Dion's role as the author of the Clarity Act: "Mr. Dion likes clarity, he should be clear."

"The sponsorship scandal has come back to haunt the Liberal Party," Industry Minister Maxime Bernier said. "Jean Chretien hired them, Paul Martin got rid of them, and Mr. Dion wants to rehire them."

Well, not exactly.

But by the time the story appeared in Le Soleil on Wednesday morning, reporters were waiting for Dion back at the Liberal caucus. While other Liberals made themselves scarce, Dion faced a barrage of questions.

"What is quoted is what I said," he said peevishly. "Nothing more, nothing less."

So, he wasn't misquoted, but what did he mean?

"I am not seeking to reopen that issue, and there's not a (membership) application as far as I know. There is a procedure we follow."

This is called backtracking. As in the headline in yesterday's Globe and Mail: "Dion backtracks on return of party exile."

But he's the leader, right?

"I'm not recommending anything," Dion said.

Dion's first national caucus was held in his home province, indeed in his hometown, so that the Liberals could turn the page on the sponsorship scandal and begin an era of renewal in Quebec.

And what was the main story out of the meeting? A reminder of a scandal that devastated the Liberal brand in Quebec.

 
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