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For many, Mulroney's legacy will be forever poisoned

Never in the annals of our language has the word "inappropriate" been asked to bear so heavy a burden.

Mr. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant, tasked with examining the financial dealings of Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber, went to the very limit of his mandate when he declared that he believed hardly a word of the former prime minister's testimony before his inquiry.

Instead, he concluded that Mr. Mulroney took up to $300,000 from Mr. Schreiber, did everything he could to hide the fact, and when he was caught, came up with a story that could best be described as cockamamie.

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"I found that the business and financial dealings between Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney were inappropriate," he stated simply but starkly. "I also found that Mr. Mulroney's failure to disclose those business and financial dealings was inappropriate."

Reading the report and listening to the commission counsel Monday, you sense Judge Oliphant might have told us much more, had the Conservative government not hamstrung the inquiry by refusing to let it explore possible links between the payments and what everyone calls the Airbus affair.

The incredulity and anger that any reasonable observer must feel over the former prime minister's conduct is the highest price Mr. Mulroney will have to pay. He is a man who cares deeply about his legacy. That legacy is stained at the least; for many, it will be forever poisoned.

The foundation of the inquiry's findings rests on Mr. Mulroney's travel itinerary in the 1990s. He testified that Mr. Schreiber paid him to lobby the foreign leaders of the nations on the United Nations Security Council, so that the UN would purchase military vehicles that would be made in Canada by Thyssen, a German arms supplier.

Except that all of the leaders Mr. Mulroney said he consulted are dead or unreachable. The trips he said he took on behalf of this mandate all coincide with previously planned business trips or vacations. He couldn't produce receipts for travel expenses. And on the trip he said he took to China to promote the proposal, the ambassador at the time says he never heard a word about it, from either Mr. Mulroney or the Chinese.

No wonder Judge Oliphant concludes that he finds Mr. Mulroney's explanation for why he took the money "troubling at best and, at worst, not worthy of any credence."

So why did the money change hands? Insert your own speculation here. We know that the RCMP at one point investigated the possibility of improper payments flowing from the purchase of aircraft from Airbus Industrie, but no charges were laid and the Conservative government, acting on recommendations of an independent fact-finder, told the Oliphant inquiry not to go there.

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So after two years and at least $14-million, all we know is that Mr. Mulroney took a whole lot of money from a businessman, who turned out to be a crook, hid it, and still can't come up with a believable excuse for why.

Mr. Mulroney can point to two great achievements as prime minister: He fought for and obtained a free trade agreement with the United States, and he backed the creation of the GST, which helped right the federal government's balance sheet; he liked to say something like: "I planted the garden and the Liberals reaped the harvest."

Although he failed to achieve constitutional reform, his vision for a more decentralized federation that accepted Quebec as a nation within it has been largely realized.

These are fine accomplishments. But to a large chunk of the population, he was Lyin' Brian - too smooth, too slick, not to be trusted.

For those who never did see him in that light, Judge Oliphant's words are deeply disheartening.

Mr. Mulroney, he concluded, had been given an opportunity to put forward "cogent, credible evidence" in defence of his claim he had done no wrong. "I regret that he has not done so."

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All people of good will regret it as well.

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