As low as they come

Karlheinz Schreiber casually ruins people's reputations -- and even their lives

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
National Post, Thursday, December 13, 2007

OTTAWA - After four days of testimony before the House Ethics Committee, Karlheinz Schreiber has established that he's not only a serial liar, but a sociopath, in the sense that he casually ruins people's reputations and even their lives.

Never mind Brian Mulroney. Consider Helmut Kohl and Jean Charest.

As chancellor of West Germany, Kohl presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall and achieved the reunification of Germany, a dream that dated from its partition at the end of the Second World War. It is one of the most important achievements of the 20th century, and Kohl will be remembered as a gigantic figure. But his career was ruined, his life brought low and his wife Hannelore thought to be at risk of suicide, because of a fund-raising scandal in his party triggered by Schreiber, which is one of the reasons the Germans want to talk to him.

Or consider the Quebec Premier, whose momentum was broken last week by Schreiber's casual testimony that he donated $30,000 to Charest's campaign for the federal Progressive Conservative leadership in 1993.

Turns out it wasn't $30,000 at all, but $13,000 according to a book published several years ago, and $10,000 according to Charest and his brother, Robert, who apparently received the cash donation.

Never mind that in those days there were no limits on corporate and individual donations to leadership campaigns, and no interdictions on cash donations. (Indeed, former Liberal minister Jean Lapierre tells a hilarious story of receiving $10,000 in cash in a shoe box for the John Turner leadership campaign as walking-around money for delegates in 1984.) It wasn't until Jean Chretien's campaign-finance reform of 2003 that limits and disclosure requirements were imposed on leadership as well as election campaigns.

Yet none of this prevented the Bloc Quebecois in Ottawa, and both opposition parties in Quebec City, from trying to torque the story into a big scandal. Such is the lack of institutional memory in this town that many media outlets initially reported the donation without stating it was perfectly legal at the time, and that Charest's campaign did nothing wrong by accepting it. It was only rapid and effective damage control by Charest himself that contained the story.

This week's principal victim of Schreiber's drive-by smears is Benoit Bouchard, former transport minister at the end of the first Mulroney government, and senior Quebec minister following the resignation of Lucien Bouchard in the second Mulroney administration.

Here's Schreiber in his opening statement on Tuesday: "So therefore I recommend urgently that you invite as a key witness, Mr. Benoit Bouchard. He was involved in the Airbus because he was then minister of transport, and he was also involved in the Bearhard [armored-vehicle] project."

Then consider the question by Robert Thibault, the lead Liberal member of the ethics committee: "You underlined the name of Mr. Bouchard without going into details. Do you know someone who would have given Mr. Bouchard money personally, or through a third party?"

Schreiber: "Those are exactly the questions, Mr. Thibault, I'm very much interested in finding out. I think this is something for an inquiry and should not be discussed here."

What touching concern for Bouchard's reputation, after slandering him under the protection of parliamentary immunity.

The facts: Bouchard became transport minister on March 31, 1988, when Air Canada had essentially chosen the Airbus 320 over retrofitted Boeing 727s. The government of the day was never consulted, only informed of the decision, as former transport minister John Crosbie has repeatedly stated. And Paul Tellier, the former clerk of the Privy Council has said on more than one occasion that Mulroney himself and his office were never involved in the file.

But Schreiber's most offensive statement on Tuesday was his digression into a little history lesson -- that there were good Germans and bad Germans, the bad ones having caused the Holocaust.

"Yes, sir, there are wonderful Germans," he said, "but there were also the Germans who did the Holocaust, and those who shot their own families on the Iron Curtain. Perhaps you can learn something."

This is insulting not only to the roughly 350,000 Canadian Jews, but to two million Canadians of German origin, including those who came here as young emigres who had themselves been victims of the Nazis.

This man is truly disgusting.

 
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