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The inappropriate legacy of Brian Mulroney Add to ...

The taint of Brian Mulroney's unseemly and inexplicable behaviour in accepting cash payments from lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber persists, in spite of his accomplishments as prime minister from 1984 to 1993; and he has only himself to blame. He had manifold opportunities to explain and passed on them all, even when given a national forum at a judicial inquiry. Today, after the release of a thorough, four-volume report by Mr. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant of Manitoba, questions remain, questions that the public may fill in with the direst explanations, in the absence of a credible one from Mr. Mulroney.

There is no public gain in vilifying a former prime minister, but after Mr. Mulroney's years of opacity there is satisfaction to be had in the trenchant, fair and ultimately damning fact-finding by an independent judge. Mr. Mulroney's acceptance of at least $225,000 in three separate cash payments from Mr. Schreiber, which he took deliberate efforts over a long period of time to conceal, raised questions that went to his integrity, and of necessity to the integrity of his office, and public officials generally.

As Judge Oliphant said, quoting Adlai Stevenson, "Public confidence in the integrity of the government is indispensable to faith in democracy; and when we lose faith in the system, we have lost faith in everything we fight and spend for." The ethical standard Judge Oliphant applied was one set down by Mr. Mulroney himself, in a 1985 code of conduct: "so scrupulous that it can bear the closest public scrutiny." That is the only standard that makes sense, for the country and for Mr. Mulroney himself.

Mr. Mulroney achieved much as a prime minister. He signed a free trade deal with the United States. He adopted far-reaching environmental regulations. He confronted South Africa over apartheid. He won two successive majority governments, though at the end, when he had left, his shattered party won just two seats. It is now a matter of record that he acted inappropriately in many ways. And in the end, what was it all for? The judge accepted that he did not take the money to lobby the government of Canada on behalf of the military supplier Mr. Schreiber represented - he received most of the cash payments when the Liberals were in power - but as for his supposed meetings with international political leaders, the judge finds no evidence (not even a thank-you note from Mr. Mulroney to any of the leaders) that they actually happened.

The judge wisely proposes that public office holders be required to disclose to the ethics commissioner any job after they leave office (and before taking up that job); a failure to disclose would be an offence. Parliament should act on the proposal forthwith.

Judge Oliphant also urges ethics training for public office holders, but the dishonour Mr. Mulroney has done himself may be lesson enough. A former prime minister took cash-stuffed envelopes while he was an MP and in private life soon afterwards. Even to Judge Oliphant, it is unclear why, except that he knew it was inappropriate.

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