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Stéphane Dion has his share of detractors in his home province, but he has not been tarnished by one file where Liberals and Conservatives have repeatedly hammered the Liberals in the last election: the federal sponsorship scandal.

Mr. Dion was the intergovernmental affairs minister and lead minister on national unity from 1996 to 2003. During that period, the federal government flooded Quebec with $355-million in sponsorship and advertising contracts, purportedly to bolster Canada's image. Much of the money went to well-connected ad agencies, and some of it was pumped back to local party officials.

During the hearings of Mr. Justice John Gomery's public inquiry into the scandal, some former executives and organizers of the party's Quebec wing were linked to allegations of illegal financing and kickbacks.

In contrast, Mr. Dion's brief appearance at the inquiry was uneventful. He testified that he knew little about the federal sponsorship program and wasn't involved in dishing out the money.

Recruited from the ranks of academia, where he had specialized in public-administration issues, Mr. Dion is not a wheeling-and-dealing backroom operator.

The report by Judge Gomery laid no blame on Mr. Dion. It did find that he attended a February, 2006, cabinet retreat where the need to increase federal visibility in Quebec was discussed, but "no specific decisions were made by the ministers present as to how this was to be accomplished, how it would be financed, or who would be in charge of any initiatives undertaken."