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Harper heard on tape discussing financial inducements for late MP

28/02/2008 10:50:00 PM 


OTTAWA - The widow of a former MP says her dying husband told her the Conservatives tried to bribe him with a lucrative insurance policy in exchange for his support in a historic 2005 House of Commons vote.

Alexander Panetta, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Question Period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Question Period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson

And there's a tape circulating that suggests then-opposition leader Stephen Harper was not only aware of a financial offer to Chuck Cadman but gave it his blessing.

But Harper vehemently denies any financial inducement had been made - and says the only overture to Cadman was a political offer to let him run as a Conservative in the imminent election.

The RCMP has been asked to investigate, and confirmed late Thursday that it is examining a claim from the Liberal party that the incident violates the Criminal Code's Section 119 provisions on bribery and corruption.

The alleged offer was made two months before Cadman died of cancer in 2005, and two days before a dramatic vote in which the fate of the Liberal government rested entirely on his shoulders.

Harper denied that party agents offered inducements to Cadman before a vote that could have toppled Paul Martin's Liberals at the height of the sponsorship scandal.

But Dona Cadman, who is running for the Conservatives in B.C., stuck to her guns in an interview Thursday.

The accusation comes at a pivotal point for Harper and the Conservatives, who face a series of confidence votes over the next several weeks beginning with the first vote Thursday on the budget.

Within hours of the story breaking, political calculators were re-calibrated across Ottawa to factor in what could be the biggest scandal the Conservatives have faced since they won power two years ago.

The incident is alleged to have happened during a highly charged period in federal politics. Martin's government was hanging by a thread and facing a confidence vote. Belinda Stronach had just defected from Harper's Conservatives to join the Liberals.

Cadman, an Independent MP, would cast the vote that would decide the fate of the government. The Conservatives now acknowledge Cadman was visited by two of the most influential people in the party - current campaign boss Doug Finley and Harper mentor Tom Flanagan - before the dramatic vote on May 19, 2005.

But they said the only offer they made was to allow Cadman to run for the party in an uncontested nomination.

The prime minister dismissed the allegation. He also noted that Cadman himself had publicly said he never received such an offer.

"This story was raised with me two-and-a-half years ago. I looked into it. There is absolutely no truth in it," Harper said Thursday.

"Chuck Cadman himself - on national television, the day of that historic vote - also indicated this story is not true. I wish everybody would accept his word."

However, the publisher of a soon-to-be-released book on Cadman's life was offering tapes of Harper - at $500 a copy - discussing a financial offer three years ago.

Harper visited Dona Cadman soon after her husband's death to offer condolences. Upon emerging from the house, Harper was questioned by a local journalist working on Cadman's biography.

On the tape, Harper is heard confirming that party representatives made a financial appeal to Cadman and that he was aware of their plans.

Harper, leader of the Opposition at the time, said he wasn't enthusiastic about their chances of success and urged them to proceed with caution.

"The offer to Chuck was that it was only to replace financial considerations he might lose due to an election," Harper says.

Harper said of the people who made the offer: "They were legitimately representing the party. ... I said 'Don't press him, I mean, you have this theory that it's, you know, financial insecurity, and you know, just, you know, if that's what you're saying make that case,' but I said, 'Don't press it'."

Dona Cadman says her own anger over the alleged inducement has subsided with time, and that she was never quite as furious about it as her husband.

And she says she has no regrets about going public - even if it puts her in an uncomfortable position.

The Conservatives were deluged with questions Thursday about whether they offered Cadman additional life insurance several weeks before his death. It almost certain that no company would offer Cadman a traditional policy given the advanced stage of his cancer.

The Liberals pummelled the government with accusations about the incident, using every opportunity of the Commons question period to raise the issue.

On at least two occasions Liberal MPs read the House of Commons standing orders that describe a financial inducement to sway an MP's vote as a "high crime."

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said the alleged attempt was immoral, unethical and illegal.

"Chuck Cadman was a man of great integrity, but now we learn that the Conservative party tried to buy him and that the prime minister was aware of it," Dion said.

"What was the prime minister thinking?"

Cadman was a popular MP who had been a guitarist in a rock band and an electrician before entering politics as an advocate for victims' rights following the murder of his son.

He entered the Commons as a Reform MP in 1997. Even after he lost the nomination for his B.C. riding and was diagnosed with cancer, Cadman ran as an Independent MP and crushed the competition in 2004.

New Democrat Pat Martin put a motion before the Commons ethics committee calling for an investigation of the Cadman allegations.

Martin, vice-chairman of the committee, called for "a study to investigate allegations of wrongdoing pertaining to reports that representatives of the Conservative party offered inducements and rewards to MP Chuck Cadman in order to influence his vote on the budget of May 2005."

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Cadman claim is latest in long string of alleged political inducements

By Bruce Cheadle

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OTTAWA - Just when do political party blandishments cross the ethical and legal line?

Allegations that Conservative party operatives offered a dying MP a fat insurance policy to influence his House of Commons vote in 2005 tap into a rich and recent history of clandestine offers - some proven, some merely alleged.

The million-dollar life insurance allegation by the widow of Chuck Cadman, herself a nominated Tory candidate, raised a furor in the Commons on Thursday.

Liberals and New Democrats combined to demand a police investigation, a public inquiry and a Commons committee investigation into what would appear to be the biggest ante yet in the continuing story of political inducements.

"We are now aware of a disturbing and unseemly pattern of behaviour on the part of people deeply involved with this government," Liberal MP Sue Barnes charged in the Commons.

"Why does this government feel it can buy anyone who gets in its way?"

But in truth, the history of alleged political inducements cuts in both directions.

Recent examples range from the mundane and marginal to cabinet-rattling headliners:

-Former Canadian Alliance MP Jim Hart took the party to court and settled after claiming he'd been offered $62,000 to quit his B.C. seat in July 2000 to make way for new party leader Stockwell Day. "My resignation was contingent upon this negotiation," Hart wrote Day in a letter obtained by the Liberal party.

-In 2005, a prospective Conservative candidate in Ottawa claimed he'd been offered $50,000 for expenses to make way for a star Tory candidate. Harper publicly denied there was a deal, but a subsequent court case vindicated Allan Riddell's claim.

-In May 2005, Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal claimed he was offered a Liberal sinecure abroad or a Senate seat for his wife in return for scratching his budget vote. Grewal secretly taped the negotiations with then prime minister Paul Martin's chief of staff and Liberal cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh. An ethics inquiry ended up rebuking Grewal.

-Conservative MP Belinda Stronach crossed the Commons floor on May 17, 2005, in return for a seat in Martin's Liberal cabinet. Her vote, along with Cadman's, helped the Liberal minority survive for another half year.

-Freshly elected Liberal MP David Emerson abandoned the Liberals two weeks after the Jan. 23, 2006, election in return for a seat in Harper's Conservative cabinet.

-Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien is currently facing two counts of influence peddling involving allegations he dangled cash and a federal appointment to induce a fellow candidate to quit the municipal race in the fall of 2006. Terry Kilrea did quit, but did not accept the alleged offer. Conservative officials, including cabinet minister John Baird, insist no federal appointment was ever discussed or offered.

New Democrat MP Pat Martin said Thursday those past controversies pale in comparison to the latest allegations.

"This is the offer of a million-dollar insurance policy that would otherwise not be available to a man with a terminal illness," said the incredulous MP.

"I would hate to see the premiums ... a million-dollar premium for a million-dollar payout."

Harper and the Conservatives emphatically deny any such offer was made to Cadman.

Copyright The Canadian Press

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