The Conservatives got some much-needed good news last week – the RCMP are investigating the Liberals, too. In connection with the sponsorship scandal, the Mounties laid charges against Jacques Corriveau, a Quebec businessman who was friends with Jean Chrétien.
We thought Adscam had been put to bed long ago, but not so. Mr. Corriveau is to appear in court in January on charges of fraud, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime. There could be more revelations about the scandal, which heavily damaged the Liberal Party, plus Chrétien-related questions of the type Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been getting about the Senate expenses scandal: "How could you not have known?"
The sponsorship program dates back to the mid-1990s. According to the Mounties, the probe involving Mr. Corriveau began in 2006 and ended in 2010. But it's only now, more than three years later, that we're hearing about charges. They come shortly after RCMP Corporal Greg Horton's release of a report documenting the Senate scandal. Many found it odd that such a detailed report was made public so quickly, and before any charges were laid.
Curious timing is nothing new for the Mounties. Recall the 2005-2006 election campaign, when the force revealed it was investigating Paul Martin's Liberals on their handling of the income trusts file, an announcement many analysts say turned the tide to the Tories in that election.
Given the strong wording of Cpl. Horton's report, charges are expected against an official or officials who worked in Mr. Harper's office. It's rare that charges reach that high and you can find a number of, let's call them conspiracy theorists, who suggest that the belated timing of Mr. Corriveau's charges may have something to do with the police force wanting to be seen as being even-handed.
Having chronicled Liberal transgressions under Mr. Chrétien, I was surprised that any charges against Mr. Corriveau wouldn't have come many years ago, when others connected to the scandal were charged. In his inquiry into the controversy, Justice John Gomery wrote that he was "the central figure in an elaborate kickback scheme by which he enriched himself personally and provided funds and benefits" to the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party.
Those who were found guilty in Adscam did not have ties to Mr. Chrétien. Nor, as he said, were they members of the Liberal Party. This helped Mr. Chrétien in his claim that he didn't know sponsorship money was used improperly.
It should be noted that Mr. Chrétien enjoyed very good relations with Giuliano Zaccardelli, the RCMP commissioner of the day, whom opposition MPs accused of not aggressively pursuing allegations on files such as Shawinigate.
At one reception I attended, Zack, as he was called, was quite open about his fondness for Mr. Chrétien. He told me that the difference between his career and that of Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua was that he had backed the right horse, while Mr. Bevilacqua had backed Paul Martin.
On the sponsorship scandal, we are left to wonder why Mr. Corriveau, who was Mr. Chrétien's friend and had done political organizing for him, was apparently not the subject of a RCMP investigation until 2006.
Mr. Zaccardelli was forced to resign as commissioner in 2006, after presiding over the botched investigation into Maher Arar. This was the same year the Conservatives came to power and the RCMP investigation into Mr. Corriveau began.
The Conservatives dearly wanted to link Mr. Chrétien closely to the scandal. But the Federal Court issued a ruling in 2008 that quashed Justice Gomery's conclusion that he shared responsibility. Not satisfied, the Conservatives appealed that verdict, but it was upheld in 2010.
Now, courtesy of the new charges, the Conservatives can put the sponsorship scandal back in the public eye.