The background is: During the Ethics committee interview of Brian Mulroney, Pablo Rodriguez (Lib) asked the following question:
Mr. Mulroney, you said you made no presentation to Maxime Bernier on the wireless spectrum issue. While he was the industry minister, have you ever had a private or public dinner or lunch with him in Montreal, or any other city? Have you ever met with him at all? If so, how many times, in which city? Have you ever placed a telephone call to him, or has he called you? On any of those, did you discuss the wireless spectrum issue?
There is a pretty fair description of the episode here. The case against Rodriguez is this:
- The question was suggested to Rodriguez by a CBC employee.
- The question was not within the mandate of the committee, which is to examine the Airbus settlement of 1997.
To me, the first point is meaningless. Reporters suggest questions to committees all the time, as do private citizens, bloggers, and interested parties. Everyone should suggest questions. There is absolutely no suggestion that the CBC bribed or blackmailed Rodriguez, or did anything other than suggest the question. Part of suggesting questions is suggesting wording, so the big debate over how well Rodriguez speaks English is beside the point.
The second point, that the question is outside the mandate, is more important. I watched the coverage of the hearing live, and when I heard this question I thought, Oh god, why are we getting off track on this nonsense? I want this committee to stay focused so it can get its job done, and don't want anything to distract it.
But since the controversy about the question has arisen, I have thought further about the relevance of the question, and I now see that it is extremely interesting and relevant.
Noone is questioning that the committee should open its investigation beyond the $300,000 cash payments by Schreiber to Mulroney. There have been lots of questions about other possible payoffs to Mulroney. The timeframe of the inquiry has been extended both before and after 1997 by all parties: everyone has asked questions about Mulroney's time as prime minister and even before, and Conservatives on the committee have asked lots of questions about Mulroney's contacts with Stephen Harper in the past two years. The Rodriguez question is about a possible current impropriety by Mulroney and is relevant in the same pattern and time frame of other questions. This is the background of the question:
- Mulroney is not a registered lobbyist.
- Mulroney is on the board of Quebecor.
- Susan Riley cites allegations that "Mulroney has lobbied the Harper government to proceed with plans to set aside valuable spectrum for newcomers, including Quebecor."
- On November 7, 2007, Harper ordered his cabinet and caucus to stop talking with Mulroney to avoid impropriety in the Schreiber hearings, but this alleged lobbying took place after that order.
- Stephane Dion asked Harper in parliament, "Has the prime minister ever discussed wireless spectrum with Brian Mulroney? Yes, or no?" and Harper refused to answer. (His office issued a statement later.)
So Rodriguez's question was very pertinent to the hearings:
- In a hearing about possible illegal lobbying in 1997, the question asks about a pattern of illegal lobbying by Brian Mulroney that may be continuing today.
- It touches on the possible Harper coverup that Tory MPs have raised in the committee.
I am not saying by any means that Harper engaged in a coverup, that Harper lied about ceasing contact with Brian Mulroney, or that Mulroney illegally lobbied the Harper government on behalf of Quebecor. But it is a reasonable question to pursue and the Ethics committee is an appropriate place to do it.