I see on the front page of my morning read that Prime Minister Stephen Harper received with some enthusiasm governor-general designate David Johnston's recommended terms of reference for the public inquiry into the dealings between Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber: "Whatever we paid him for this, it wasn't enough" - Mr. Harper is reported to have said back then to the Clerk of the Privy Council of the day, Kevin Lynch.
These words ring true - assuming Mr. Harper had little interest in finding out where $20-million in Airbus commissions paid to Karlheinz Schreiber had gone. As to the Official Opposition, the Liberals, too, were enthusiastic about Dr. Johnston's appointment in 2008. Indeed, after a brief flurry pursuing the Airbus matter during the short leadership of Stéphane Dion, they did not even seem troubled by the fact that Mr. Mulroney had appointed Dr. Johnston to chair the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy - a position that reported to Mr. Mulroney.
Personally, I've never understood how Dr. Johnston could have described the RCMP investigation of Airbus as "well-tilled ground." That would be the same investigation that lacked subpoena powers, dismissed its lead investigator, did not have the co-operation of Mr. Schreiber - and, according to author William Kaplan's sources, was shut down before it could corroborate the cash payments to Mr. Mulroney.
By excluding the Airbus transaction from scrutiny, Mr. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant, and Canadians, were expected to ignore:
1) Two months before Mr. Mulroney was elected Conservative leader, former Newfoundland premier Frank Moores sent a telex to Mr. Schreiber in Germany saying "I need to talk to you, re: Air Canada, international trade zone, political donations." Mr. Schreiber at this point has bankrolled the Dump Joe Clark movement.
2) After being elected prime minister, Mr. Mulroney fired the board of Air Canada and replaced them with a group of new Directors that included Frank Moores - by then a fully entrenched Airbus lobbyist.
3) Despite efforts to privatize several Crown corporations, Mr. Mulroney's government delayed the privatization of Air Canada. Then, very shortly after the privatization was allowed to proceed, Air Canada announced the purchase of 34 Airbus jetliners.
4) Mr. Mulroney's close friend and soldier, Fred Doucet, sent three letters to Mr. Schreiber between 1992 and 1994, inquiring about the number of Airbus "birds" delivered to Air Canada - on which depended the amount of the commissions Airbus funnelled to Mr. Schreiber's bank accounts. One of those letters was sent the same day that Mr. Mulroney accepted the first cash payment from Mr. Schreiber at a meeting that Mr. Doucet arranged.
5) The cash that Mr. Mulroney accepted came from a Swiss bank account, labelled Britan, that included Airbus money. (There is no evidence that Mr. Mulroney knew about the source of the cash.) Though the Oliphant Commission claims to have discovered this fact, it was first unveiled by the Fifth Estate and could have been easily verified by Dr. Johnston on the CBC website.
6) Mr. Schreiber's accountant, Giorgio Pelosi has stated publicly that Mr. Schreiber was reserving Airbus money for "Canadian friends" - one of whom was Brian Mulroney. (Mr. Pelosi acknowledges he has no proof that this in fact occurred; nor is there any other evidence that it did.)
I don't know whether Dr. Johnston was asked by members of the committee established by Mr. Harper to advise on the appointment of a new Governor-General why he excluded the Airbus transaction. And, yesterday, he did not take questions from reporters after his brief televised statement.
I do know, however, that Dr. Johnston - who appears supremely qualified for the position in every other respect - has refused to discuss the matter with journalists who've requested interviews about his strange decision. And that, ironically, he will now be handing out the most coveted award in journalism - the Michener Award - which was given to the CBC and the Globe and Mail for their work on Airbus.
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