That $225,000 was the most expensive money Mulroney ever made

The former PM's 'error in judgment' has cost him plenty

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The Gazette, Friday, December 14, 2007

In the four years I wrote speeches for Brian Mulroney, I came to know the difference between his own voice and something that had been written for him.

And clearly, yesterday, Canadians heard him in his own voice. Whether you believed him or not, his half-hour opening statement to the House ethics committee was Mulroney speaking for himself, not a lawyer arguing a brief. No excuses. No qualifiers. No one to blame but himself.

The audience wasn't in the room. Not really. The members of the committee were supporting players in a fairly scripted if spirited drama. The media were just filters. The real audience was in the offices and living rooms of the country. And having heard from Karlheinz Schreiber over four days, there was a growing sense that in fairness Canadians should hear from Mulroney for at least one.

The first thing he had to do was apologize for accepting a cash-retainer arrangement with Karlheinz Schreiber. So that one of the storylines of the day became "Mulroney apologizes" rather than "Mulroney refuses to apologize."

Then, after expressing regret, he needed to acknowledge it was the biggest mistake he ever made in his life. Or as he put it, "the second biggest mistake," after ever agreeing to meet a character like Schreiber in the first place.

If Peter Lougheed knew enough to keep Schreiber away from the Alberta premier's office, if Paul Tellier knew enough to throw him out of the Langevin Building, Mulroney should never have met the man. Elmer MacKay and Fred Doucet introduced him, but it was Mulroney's mistake, and his own alone, to meet him.

MacKay had given up his seat for Mulroney in the 1983 Central Nova by-election. And Doucet, a senior adviser who went on to become a lobbyist, is one of the old friends of whom Mulroney was far too indulgent. Don't ask.

Mulroney said yesterday that when he met Schreiber, he knew him as a respectable businessman, as the head of Thyssen Canada, with 3,000 employees in this country. It was only later that he came to discover that he was a serial liar and sociopath, who specialized in ruining people's lives. Schreiber certainly had a good run at ruining Mulroney's, not to mention Helmut Kohl's, with honourable mention in the last week of Jean Charest and Benoît Bouchard. The man who would sell out his own mother to achieve his objective of avoiding extradition to Germany.

Beyond the apology and the admission of his error in meeting Schreiber, Mulroney had to answer a few other questions yesterday.

Why did he accept a cash arrangement with Schreiber in the first place? Because that's what he offered, when they met at an airport hotel at Mirabel in August 1993. Would he have accepted a cheque? Obviously.

What did he do to earn the money? At his own expense, he visited high-level government officials of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, to lobby them on behalf of the Bearhead light armoured vehicle project that his own government had cancelled when it would have cost $100 million of taxpayers' money to build a plant in Nova Scotia.

Why the delay in paying his taxes, which he did voluntarily later on? What did he do with the cash? And by the way, how much was it?

Not $500,000, which Schreiber said had been set aside. Not even $300,000 in three payments of $100,000 each. But $225,000, Mulroney said, in three payments of $75,000 each.

Now that was the major development of the day. That it was only $225,000 doesn't diminish Mulroney's error in judgment.

But it does further destroy the credibility of Schreiber, who doesn't even know how much money he paid Mulroney. If he can't even get that straight, why should anyone believe anything he says?

For the rest, Mulroney proceeded to eviscerate Schreiber's credibility, quoting different sworn versions of the same story, and destroying Schreiber's Nov. 7 affidavit that Mulroney dubbed his "get-out-of-jail card," leading to this political melodrama on Parliament Hill.

Now David Johnston, the independent third party who is to make recommendations on where to go from here, is faced with a political as well as a process problem. Is there a question of the public interest, enough to justify the expense of a full public inquiry? Is there a lesser means, such as turning the whole miserable business over to the police or a public prosecutor? Or was this, in the end, a private transaction which, Mulroney having paid his taxes, isn't in the public domain?

Whether it was $300,000 or $225,000, this much is clear: It's the most expensive money Mulroney ever made.

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