Former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Sinclair Stevens says it was worth fighting 18 years to clear the conflict of interest allegations that have hovered over him since the Brian Mulroney years.
"I think I did the right thing," Mr. Stevens, 77, said yesterday. "When you feel a wrong has been done, I feel it's very important that people stand up and try to right the wrong. When you are personally involved, I suppose it's doubly important."
The Federal Court ruled this week that the report of a commission of inquiry released in December, 1987, which found Mr. Stevens had mixed private business with his public duties on 14 occasions, should be set aside "in accordance with the principles of procedural fairness."
Mr. Justice John O'Keefe found that the commission report, written by Mr. Justice William Parker, had applied a standard of conflict of interest that was not in place at the time the improprieties were alleged to have occurred, and that Judge Parker did not have the jurisdiction to set his own definition.
Mr. Stevens, who resigned in 1986 as minister of regional economic expansion in the Mulroney government as a result of the allegations, doesn't blame any one person for his troubles.
The commission and the media both played a hand in persecuting him, he said, as did an enemy within the federal bureaucracy. And then there was the opposition -- in particular, the so-called Rat Pack of four Liberal MPs that included Sheila Copps and John Nunziata.
"Their dedicated drive was to topple the Mulroney government and they would decide on a minister that they wanted to take on and I got into their sights," he said.
Ms. Copps pointed out yesterday that it was the Mulroney government, and not the Liberals, that ordered the commission of inquiry. But she has some sympathy for the former cabinet minister.
"I am sure it probably would have been hard for Sinc Stevens having to go through all those years of having the cloud over his head," Ms. Copps said.
Perhaps, she said, the Federal Court ruling will provide insight into commissions of inquiry. "I think there may be something in having some sort of a standardized approach for commissions so there is at least the same rule of law and rights for the accused that exist in the regular court."
Mr. Nunziata also has sympathy for Mr. Stevens.
"Having left politics, I understand how partisanship is, at times, inherently unfair to individuals, and we were obviously very partisan," he said. "Sinclair Stevens was unfortunately playing in that venue and that's the nature of politics, it's hardball."
Judge O'Keefe heard that the commission counsel, which acted as the prosecution at the 1986 hearing, had billed for 1,700 hours of work on the case after the hearing ended. That occurred despite suggestions from Mr. Stevens's lawyers that any contact between the commission counsel and Judge Parker as the ruling was being written would be improper.
In the end, Judge Parker determined that Mr. Stevens did not directly profit from actions he took while in cabinet, but he was in conflict of interest by approving grants to auto-parts maker Magna while his wife was negotiating a $2.6-million loan from a company consultant.
Judge Parker also found that Mr. Stevens had continued to manage the affairs of York Centre Corp., a subsidiary he had placed in a blind trust, and pointed to several other situations wherein the former cabinet minister could have potentially gained from his public decisions.
"There were findings of conflict," Mr. Stevens's lawyer, Peter Jervis, said. "All of those were what I would say merely situations where the knowledge of a private interest could theoretically influence a future action that never happened."
Mr. Jervis said his client had been through a long struggle. "We hope that the government will accept the finality of this ruling and accept that the court has said this is a flawed process and will not appeal."
A spokesman for the federal Justice Department said yesterday that no decision has been made on whether the case will be dropped.
As for Mr. Stevens, he is looking forward to returning to his business dealings without having to deal with the taint of conflict.