Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he gave his chief party organizer the okay to meet with the late Chuck Cadman in 2005 and make an offer of electoral assistance in return for rejoining the caucus and helping to defeat the then-Liberal government.
Mr. Harper made the remarks in testimony in his $3.5-million libel suit against the Liberal Party of Canada. The controversy broke earlier this year in a biography about Mr. Cadman, in which his widow, Dona, says her husband told her he was offered a $1-million life insurance policy in return for his vote.
The Prime Minister said in documents filed yesterday in the Ontario Superior Court that he gave his authorization to Doug Finley for the meeting after learning that Mr. Cadman, who eventually voted to save the Liberal government, was having financial difficulties and was afraid of losing his seat in the election.
It's the most detailed account Mr. Harper has given to date of how his party approached Mr. Cadman.
Responding to questions from Liberal lawyers, Mr. Harper said he was told before the vote by Conservative Party members that then-prime minister Paul Martin and other Liberals were seeking Mr. Cadman's support in the Commons vote. According to Mr. Harper, the party members argued that the Prime Minister "had a responsibility to make sure that Chuck was formally approached and that it was clearly understood that he could rejoin the caucus, that he could get the nomination there was no doubt about that, and that he would be a priority for the party in terms of re-election and financial support. And on that basis, I authorized the meeting on the 19th."
He said that Mr. Finley told him that Mr. Cadman would become eligible for assistance under what is known as the party's target seed voter program, "which has a number of various benefits for candidacy that is high priority for the party in terms of financial support, in terms of services and other kinds of campaign support."
Mr. Harper said the assistance would have included a repayable loan to Mr. Cadman's riding association.
The Prime Minister said Ms. Cadman told him of an offer from two unnamed individuals of a $1-million life insurance policy when he met with her in September of that year, after Mr. Cadman died. He said he told her he knew nothing of such an offer.
"In the course of that conversation she asked me did I know anything about people from the Party offering a $1-million life insurance policy to Chuck. And that's what she asked me and I told her no, I told her that I was aware of a meeting of Doug Finley and Tom Flanagan, that I had authorized, to see if Chuck wanted to rejoin our Caucus, that we would provide him with the normal financial support that one provided a candidate if he chose to run an election campaign."
The Prime Minister said he later spoke with Mr. Finley, who said no offer of a policy had been made.
"He said he had no offer of a policy of insurance."
Mr. Harper also said the offer of a life insurance policy sounded preposterous to him.
The allegation of a meeting and an offer were contained in a book authored by B.C. author Tom Zytaruk. Mr. Zytaruk then produced a tape in which Mr. Harper is asked about the life insurance policy. Mr. Harper is heard saying he did not know of the details but was aware that representatives had made an offer of financial considerations.
The Tories have said that the tape was doctored.
Mr. Cadman was suffering from terminal cancer at the time of the confidence vote and died later that year. The Prime Minister is suing the Liberals over a party website posting that he was aware of a bribery attempt in the matter.
A spokesman for Mr. Harper's office said last night that Mr. Harper's testimony reflects his comments all along.
"The PM's testimony is consistent with what we have said from the very beginning," said Kory Teneycke.
The examination of the Prime Minister took place in an Ottawa law office and was later filed in the courts.