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October 04, 2010: Construction of the north tower of West Block (under white tarp) is seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Dave Chan for Globe and Mail. (DAVE CHAN)
October 04, 2010: Construction of the north tower of West Block (under white tarp) is seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Dave Chan for Globe and Mail. (DAVE CHAN)

Globe Editorial

The missing link at the West Block Add to ...

The allegation that a contract for the renovation of a Parliamentary building was improperly obtained is a serious one. The circumstances around the awarding of $9-million in work to LM Sauvé after it made contacts with consultant Gilles Varin should be investigated vigorously. But the protagonists should not be prematurely tried in Parliament, or by the public. With an RCMP investigation under way, those seeking to politicize the issue are best advised to stand down.

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The relationship between LM Sauvé and its president, Paul Sauvé, and Mr. Varin has attracted the RCMP probe. The two men had made contact with at least two Conservative staffers working on Parliament Hill in advance of the contract being awarded by the Ministry of Public Works. Mr. Varin, who was not registered to lobby for LM Sauvé, received $10,000 monthly payments from LM Sauvé after the contract was awarded, and Mr. Sauvé went on to host a fundraiser for the Conservative riding association of Bourassa at which then-Public Works Minister Christian Paradis was a guest of honour. But then LM Sauvé lost the contract and the firm filed for bankruptcy.

That litany of dealings lends itself to political muckraking. And the opposition parties wasted little time piling on in Question Period on Wednesday. But it's important to keep two things in mind. The Conservatives have shown leadership in making the federal government more accountable. Indeed, if there is a charge arising from the awarding of success fees from this contract, it would be due to a piece of Conservative legislation, the Lobbying Act of 2008, which bans the payment of contingency fees to outside consultants.

And even if it carries a foul smell, a correlation between a donation and a contract does not imply causation. We know from recent political scandals that while an unscrupulous consultant can claim whatever connection he likes with a government, it doesn't mean the connection actually exists. As American clean government activist and legal scholar Lawrence Lessig put it in an October, 2009 essay in The New Republic, "it is impossible to know whether any particular contribution or contributions brought about a particular vote, or was inspired by a particular vote. Put differently, if there are benign as well as malign contributions, it is impossible to know for any particular contribution which of the two it is."

The prospect of corruptly-obtained work being done at the seat of Canada's democracy is certainly troubling. But the RCMP investigation will not benefit from parliamentary antics.

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