Wednesday, September 17, 2008

PM Stephen Harper owes Canadians answers in Chuck Cadman affair; Harper’s story hard to reconcile with former Tory adviser Tom Flanagan’s book

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent testimony in his $3.5 million libel suit against the Liberal Party of Canada revealed that he authorized Doug Finley and Tom Flanagan to meet with the late Chuck Cadman in 2005 and make an offer of electoral assistance in return for rejoining the caucus and helping to defeat the then-Liberal government. But other than that Harper’s testimony didn’t seem to deviate from the official party line and left numerous questions unanswered.

In the article Harper testifies he authorized offer to Cadman (The Globe and Mail, Sept. 3, 2008) Harper said he was told before the vote by Conservative Party members that then-prime minister Paul Martin and other Liberals were seeking Mr. Cadman’s support in the Commons vote. According to Mr. Harper, the party members argued that the Prime Minister “had a responsibility to make sure that Chuck was formally approached and that it was clearly understood that he could rejoin the caucus, that he could get the nomination there was no doubt about that, and that he would be a priority for the party in terms of re-election and financial support. And on that basis, I authorized the meeting on the 19th.”

Harper said the assistance would have included a repayable loan to Mr. Cadman’s riding association.

The Prime Minister said Mr. Cadman’s widow, Dona, told him of an offer from two unnamed individuals of a $1-million life insurance policy when he met with her in September of that year, after Mr. Cadman died. He said he told her he knew nothing of such an offer.

When the bribery allegations story first broke Ms. Cadman told the Globe and Mail in a telephone interview on Feb. 27, 2008, that her husband was furious when he returned home to their apartment after the meeting. “Chuck was really insulted,” she said. “He was quite mad about it, thinking they could bribe him with that.”

Ms. Cadman said she had “no idea” where the money for the life insurance was supposed to come from. “They had the form there. Chuck just had to sign.”

In his biography of Mr. Cadman, Like a Rock: The Chuck Cadman story, Vancouver journalist Tom Zytaruk writes that the only person in the office at the time of the visit by the officials was Mr. Cadman’s legislative assistant, Dan Wallace.

When Mr. Zytaruk broached the subject with Mr. Wallace, he writes, “he recoiled,” but said: “I believe Dona Cadman as the day is long. She has no interest in fabricating anything.”

According to the Globe, Ms. Cadman “had read and approved the manuscript for the book.”

In a comment that would come back to haunt the Harper government, Sandra Buckler, a spokeswoman for Mr. Harper, said on Feb. 27, 2008, “that her boss never directed any party official to make any kind of financial arrangement with Mr. Cadman.” [Tories offered ‘bribe’ to MP, widow alleges (The Globe and Mail, Feb. 28, 2008)]

Dona Cadman backed her story up in an interview with Janet Dirks of CTV on Feb. 28, 2008, saying that two gentlemen had visited her husband before the vote “and offered him a million-dollar life insurance policy and a few other things.”

“A few other things such as?” Dirks asked.

“One was being welcomed back into the Conservative Party,” replied Ms. Cadman.

“Did he ever show you any documents or were there any papers shown to him?”

“No. There were papers shown to him, but they were taken with them,” said Cadman.

Dirks asked Ms. Cadman if she considered the offer a bribe.

“Um, yes, in a way,” she replied. [Widow says dying MP husband was offered a ‘bribe’ (CTV News, Feb. 28, 2008)]

The Globe seemed to support Ms. Cadman, who is the Conservative candidate in Surrey North, stating in a Feb. 29, 2008, editorial that she “would seem to have no partisan agenda here – indeed, quite the contrary.”

The Globe wasn’t impressed with the Conservatives side of the story and started asking questions:

“In the Commons yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he looked into the allegations 2½ years ago and found there was nothing to them. That assessment was not Mr. Harper’s to make.

“Mr. Zytaruk writes that he questioned Mr. Harper about the matter. “Of the offer to Chuck,” he quotes Mr. Harper as saying, “it was only to replace financial considerations he might lose due to an election, OK. That’s my understanding of what they were talking about.” But what makes that okay? Would “replac[ing] financial considerations” not also constitute a form of bribery? And, perhaps confusingly, Sandra Buckler, spokeswoman for the Prime Minister, said Wednesday that Mr. Harper never directed any party official to make any kind of financial arrangements with Mr. Cadman.

“In a statement yesterday, Conservative strategists Doug Finley and Tom Flanagan said they met with Mr. Cadman on May 19, the day of the vote, and offered ways in which Mr. Cadman could “wage a competitive campaign” in any resulting election. This sounds strange, since, as was widely known, Mr. Cadman was suffering from a serious illness. It seems unlikely he would have run again if the government had fallen.” [Just what was Cadman offered? (The Globe and Mail, Feb 29, 2008)]

On Feb. 28, 2008, Mr. Cadman’s daughter, Jodi, told CBC News that her father had told her about the offer.

“He just said, ‘I have something to tell you,’ and he told me that he was offered a life insurance policy; that my mom and myself would be taken care of,” she said from Vancouver. [Liberals request RCMP probe into alleged bribe (The Globe and Mail, Feb. 29, 2008)]

Jodi Cadman told CTV Newsnet’s Mike Duffy Live that the late Independent MP did indeed tell several of his family members about enticements the Tories had allegedly offered him in 2005 in an effort to influence his vote. Cadman said she believes her father didn’t go public with his account of the enticement claims because he wanted to spend his final days peacefully.

Cadman’s daughter says her father told her, on his deathbed, about an offer of an insurance policy and other enticements in exchange for his vote on a 2005 budget vote.

“My father told me directly that he had been offered a million-dollar life insurance policy by the Conservatives,” Jodi Cadman said.

“He didn't give me any more information than that. I don't have names, dates, where it took place. I wish I did. I wish I had asked him more about it.”

Jodi Cadman said her father didn’t explain to her why he turned it down at the time. She has said, however, that he probably didn’t blow the whistle on Conservative inducements because he wanted his last days to be peaceful. She has also said her father, who died in July 2005, knew it would be difficult to back up the claims without any evidence.

Cadman said on Mike Duffy Live that her father also told her husband and mother separately about the alleged offer. Cadman said she did not initially want to come forward with the information. She said she’s speaking out because people had questioned her mother’s veracity. [Cadman was ‘offended’ by Tory offer, daughter says (CTV News, Feb. 29, 2008)]

In an interview with Petti Fong, the Toronto Star’s Western Canada bureau chief, Jodi Cadman said she never told anyone about what her father said about the insurance policy offered to him because he asked her to keep it confidential.

“I was incredibly proud that he didn’t take it,” she said. “People didn’t know he was so close to the end.”

Ms. Cadman, who once considered going into politics like her dad, said she’s disappointed that her mother is still aligned with the Conservative party. Dona Cadman is the Conservative candidate in her late husband’s riding.

“She has her reasons and when I asked her about it, she said it’s the truth,” said Cadman today. “I have to come forward and vouch for her.” [Cadman confided Tory offer, ‘hurt’ daughter says (Toronto Star, Feb. 29, 2008)]

On Feb. 29, 2008, Holland Miller, Jodi Cadman’s husband, said in an interview with Vancouver radio station CKNW that he too was taken aside by Mr. Cadman and told about the inducement. “He was quite upset and made it very clear that this incident had happened,” Miller said.

Mr. Harper “is calling all of us liars,” Mr. Miller said. “If that’s what they are going to say, that’s fine. Myself and my wife and my mother-in-law, we know the truth. We know what Chuck told us.” [Tory MP demands to see ‘full and unedited version’ of interview (The Globe and Mail, Mar. 1, 2008)]

The CanWest News Service reported Miller saying during the radio interview “I can tell you that according to Chuck when he did get back from Ottawa he did specifically tell me this offer was made.”

“He said a million-dollar life insurance policy. Now, I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense to what people are saying, but that’s exactly what he had said.” [Daughter of Cadman backs mother’s claim (CanWest News Service, Mar. 1, 2008)]

This brings to three the number of people Chuck Cadman told separately that he had received an offer from the Conservatives that included a life insurance policy.

On Mar. 3, 2008, Dona Cadman issued a statement saying she believed that Stephen Harper didn’t know anything about the million dollar insurance policy.

“He looked me straight in the eyes and told me he had no knowledge of an insurance policy offer. I knew he was telling me the truth; I could see it in his eyes,” she said.

Don Martin, the National Post’s national affairs columnist, weighed in the following day asking the prime minister to “answer the damned question.”

“Precisely what “financial considerations” were you talking about in admitting knowledge of a Conservative party approach to Independent MP Chuck Cadman prior to the 2005 vote to topple the Liberals?”

“In lieu of a clarification,” Martin said “the Conservatives yesterday were waving around Mrs. Cadman’s sudden insistence that Mr. Harper did not know about an alleged million-dollar life insurance inducement.

“I knew he was telling me the truth; I could see it in his eyes,” she says. If that line wasn’t written by a PMO or Conservative party staffer, I’ll eat my laptop. But it still doesn’t overlook the fact that a tape of the future prime minister shows he knew that two of his closest advisors were negotiating a monetary deal with Mr. Cadman. An explanation is desperately required.

“Yet with every controversial day’s passing, it becomes harder for the Prime Minister to simply shrug off those “financial considerations” as an innocent repayable loan to his riding association or a pension plan top up in exchange for Mr. Cadman’s vote.” [Time for an answer, Mr. Harper (National Post, Mar. 4, 2008)]

Even the conservative friendly Saskatoon StarPhoenix was skeptical.

In a Mar. 6, 2008, editorial the newspaper said “Saskatchewan residents are all too familiar with that look from Harper.

“He used it during the 2005 election campaign when he promised a Conservative government would leave non-renewable resources out of the equalization formula -- giving the province’s revenues an $800-million boost.

“But once he unexpectedly grabbed the reins of government shortly after giving his word (including in writing), he reviewed the numbers, found they didn’t work and Harper’s word was broken.

“The numbers also didn’t add up when Harper promised he would never tax income trusts. After assuring investors he would never consider changing the tax laws in a way contemplated by the Liberals, his finance minister told the country Ottawa couldn’t lose the revenue such a tax would provide.

“And there are enough inconsistencies in the PM’s version of the Cadman saga that even though Dona Cadman, who is now the Conservative candidate in her husband’s former riding, may be convinced by Harper’s eyes, the rest of Canada requires a few more details.

“Chuck Cadman was so ill with cancer he barely made it to Ottawa for the vote for which the Conservatives were trying to secure his support. Within weeks he was dead.

“Yet the PM and his top Cadman spinner, James Moore, want Canadians to believe the offer being made included only a request: If he would agree to replace the already declared Conservative candidate for the riding, the party would “replace financial considerations.”” [Canada needs more evidence than PM’s eyes (StarPhoenix, Mar. 6, 2008)]

The Harper Conservatives have tried using various interviews given by Chuck Cadman to clear their name, but CTV News pointed out on Mar. 5, 2008, that “Cadman’s public statements before his death were contradictory, suggesting in some televised interviews that he was offered nothing beyond an unfettered opportunity to run as a Conservative in the B.C. riding of Surrey. In another interview on CKNW radio, he suggested other considerations were offered but doesn’t specify them.” [Harper visited Cadman on eve of testimony: book (CTV News, Mar. 5, 2008)]

In the House of Commons on Mar. 4, 2008, Primer Minister Stephen Harper threatened legal action against the Liberals when they refused to back away from allegations that Conservative operatives tried to bribe Chuck Cadman.

Harper laid out what he called “the facts” saying that the Conservatives were “prepared to assist Chuck Cadman in securing his nomination and to ensure, financially and otherwise, that he was able to fight a successful election campaign.”

The PMO has stuck with this weak excuse ever since.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, meanwhile, questioned the Conservative line of defence, given that the Conservatives had already appointed a candidate in Mr. Cadman’s riding of Surrey North.

“That they could have told that candidate, ‘Hello, you are no longer our candidate and, by the way, we are replacing you with someone who has cancer and is in terminal phase,’ it doesn’t sound very credible,” Mr. Duceppe said. [Harper to Dion: See you in court (The Globe and Mail, Mar 5, 2008)]

In the same article the Globe published a list of six questions that remained unanswered by the Conservatives, questions which remain unanswered today:
1. Did anyone from the Conservative Party, or connected to the Tories, at any time offer Mr. Cadman financial remuneration if he would vote against the Liberal budget in 2005?

2. If Tom Flanagan and Doug Finley offered Mr. Cadman a repayable loan to help with his election expenses, what was the amount and what were the terms of repayment?

3. Why would the Conservatives have been offering Mr. Cadman the chance to run as a Conservative in Surrey North when a candidate had already been nominated in that riding and Mr. Cadman was dying of cancer?

4. Why, when asked about the offer of a $1-million insurance policy for Dona Cadman during a 2005 interview with a B.C. journalist, did Stephen Harper reply that he did not know the details but that “it was only to replace financial considerations he might lose due to an election?”

5. What did Mr. Harper mean when he said in that same interview: “I told them they were wasting their time. I said Chuck had made up his mind he was going to vote with the Liberals.” Does that not mean that the offer was in exchange for a vote?

6. What motivation would Dona Cadman, now a Tory candidate in her husband’s former riding, have to fabricate a story about a life insurance offer?
Why won’t Prime Minister Stephen Harper answer these questions?

It seemed like every time someone in the PMO opened their mouth the story grew murkier.

On Mar. 6, 2008, The Globe and Mail reported that the Prime Minister’s Office denied “that any Conservative offered Chuck Cadman a million-dollar life insurance policy but refused to say that no financial benefits were ever held out in exchange for his vote against a Liberal budget.

“When The Canadian Press asked Sandra Buckler, the communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, if anyone connected with the party had ever offered Mr. Cadman the million-dollar policy, Ms. Buckler replied: “I categorically deny it.”

“That is the furthest that a member of the Prime Minister’s staff has gone to date in disputing the allegations of Mr. Cadman’s widow, Dona Cadman, her daughter and her son-in-law.

“But Ryan Sparrow, a Conservative Party spokesman, declined in six e-mail exchanges with The Globe and Mail last week to state that no Conservative official had ever offered a financial inducement of any kind to Mr. Cadman.

“And yesterday, Ms. Buckler also balked at making that kind of blanket denial - even when it was made clear that financial benefits were not being interpreted to include the campaign funds that the Conservatives admit they were prepared to give the dying MP.

“The Globe and Mail asked Ms. Buckler to confirm that “no representative of the Conservative Party at any time offered Chuck Cadman a financial benefit in exchange for his vote [understanding] 'financial benefit' to mean anything but help with a possible election campaign.”

“She twice refused, saying only that “the CP story is accurate” and that her “comment to CP stands.”” [Million-dollar policy not held out to Cadman, PMO says (The Globe and Mail, Mar 6, 2008)]

(On June 26, 2008, Sandra Buckler unexpectedly announced her resignation as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications. Then on Sept. 11, 2008, Tory communications director Ryan Sparrow was suspended indefinitely and ordered to apologize personally for comments he made about the father of a soldier killed in the Afghanistan mission.)

On Mar. 10, 2008, Macleans Ottawa bureau chief John Geddes served up what is perhaps the most damning evidence that the Harper Conservatives story is less than believable.

The evidence comes from former Harper chief adviser Tom Flanagan, who briefly wrote about the Cadman incident in his 2007 book Harper’s Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power.

Geddes notes that the book’s few brief paragraphs on the May 19, 2005, attempt to lure Cadman back into the Tory fold “isn’t the final word on the subject…But it does make several key points quite clear.”

Flanagan’s words are in italics, followed by the conclusions Geddes drew from them:
Independent Chuck Cadman was the swing voter. If he voted with the Conservatives in favour of the motion, it would carry by one vote and we would have an election. If he voted with the Liberals, there would be a tie, which the Speaker would break in favour of the Liberals, and they would continue in government.

So it was all about voting in the House to fell the Liberal minority. No mention here of coaxing Cadman into running as a Tory in some future election, even though the Conservatives now assert that was mainly what they had in mind.

Doug Finley wanted to make one last attempt to persuade Cadman to rejoin the Conservative caucus, but Chuck was very sick with skin cancer—he would be dead in two months—and wasn’t answering his phone.

No doubt at all, then, that several attempts had been made before May 19, and it sounds like Finley, the Tory campaign boss, was involved in them. Yet the Conservatives now want to talk only about the May 19 meeting, which means their answers must be less than comprehensive.

I dropped into Doug Finley’s office about 1 p.m. on 19 May, just a few hours before the scheduled vote on our non-confidence motion, and found he couldn’t get through to Chuck. I called John Reynolds, who called Gary Lunn, who was able to get us 15 minutes with Cadman at 3 p.m. Chuck was gracious when he received us in his Parliamentary office, but he was visibly tired, and I could see that he wasn’t up to negotiating a return to caucus.

Given Cadman’s weakened state, it seems unlikely that details of an offer of any sort was discussed at this meeting. It was probably at some other meeting, then, that some sort of financial offer was offered, whether the straightforward pitch Tories say they made to help out with his future campaign expenses, or something more dubious, like the insurance policy his widow says he was offered. In other words, we’d need to know about previous meetings to get to the bottom of what was on the table.

The last thing he wanted right now was an election. I knew then that we would lose the vote, which we did a couple hours later.

Here Flanagan seems to discount the possibility of talking seriously to Cadman about running again: the man was too ill. And yet getting him to run as a Tory again is at the core of the official Conservative version of what they talked about with Cadman.

That Doug and I made this last desperate try with Cadman shows how we were all caught up in the attempt to force an election... It’s an excellent example of how the passions of politics lead to decisions that later make you scratch your head.

This last sentence must now ring all too true to Conservatives. It’s easy to imagine, given the atmosphere Flanagan describes, a lot of bad decisions being made.
On Mar. 11, 2008, Conservative spokeswoman Sandra Buckler again refused to issue a blanket denial that no offer was ever given to Mr. Cadman.

The “lingering concern” was that the government’s denials “may relate only to the meeting of May 19 – when the Conservatives acknowledge Mr. Cadman met with Conservative officials Doug Finley and Tom Flanagan – but not to other offers that may have been made on different dates by other people.” [Tories fail to offer blanket denials over Cadman affair (The Globe and Mail, Mar. 12, 2008)]

By now the Cadman controversy had started affecting parliamentary business. The justice committee “collapsed into chaos” on Mar. 12, 2008, when the Conservatives tried to block a bid to launch an investigation into what Tory Party officials offered to Chuck Cadman.

For the second straight day, Art Hanger, the chairman of the committee, walked out of a meeting rather than entertain a Liberal motion that his committee examine the issues surrounding allegations that offers were made to Mr. Cadman in exchange for his vote against the Liberal budget in the spring of 2005.

The Globe and Mail reported that Mr. Hanger’s conduct appeared to follow guidelines issued last year to Conservative committee chairs by their party.

A Calgary columnist who saw a copy of those rules has reported that they explain how to “favour government agendas, select party-friendly witnesses, coach favourable testimony, set in motion debate-obstructing delays and, if necessary, storm out of meetings to grind parliamentary business to a halt.” [Cadman motion paralyzes committee (The Globe and Mail, Mar. 13, 2008)]

(Don Martin, the National Post’s national affairs columnist, exposed the stunning secret in his May 17, 2007, column Tories have book on political wrangling.)

On May 12, 2008, Jodi Cadman said RCMP officials spoke to her in mid-March and that during the 90-minute interview officers asked her what her father told her on his deathbed. She said the Mounties had not spoken to her since then. Her mother, Dona Cadman was interviewed twice by investigators. [RCMP asked daughter about bribe allegations (The Globe and Mail, May 13, 2008)]

In a news release issued May 16, 2008, the Liberal Party of Canada said it had received a letter from the RCMP indicating that its investigation into the Chuck Cadman affair “disclosed no evidence to support a charge under the Criminal Code or under the Parliament of Canada Act.”

The short letter signed by C/Supt. Serge Therriault of the RCMP’s criminal operations “A” Division doesn’t say, however, that at one time evidence may have existed. It should be remembered that Dona Cadman said the two individuals that visited her husband had brought papers, but took them with them when they left.

On July 14, 2008, The Globe and Mail reported that Dona Cadman was still standing by her story and had “not directly denied” the claim that two Conservatives had offered her husband a $1-million life insurance policy if he voted against the Liberals to help force an election. [Expert contradicts Cadman tape claims (The Globe and Mail, July 14, 2008)]

Breaking his own fixed date election law Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Sept. 7, 2008, that Canadians would go to the polls on Oct. 14, 2008, one year earlier than expected.

With the Cadman affair still playing out in the courtroom Harper’s lawyers filed an “emergency” motion for an adjournment with Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland, court officials said on Sept. 12, 2008.

The reason: Harper’s campaign schedule prevents him from paying close attention to the legal details of the lawsuit he filed over an allegation that Conservatives attempted to bribe a terminally ill MP in 2005.

The move came at the same time lawyers for the Liberal party filed their own motion with Hackland asking him to order Harper to produce documents which his lawyer, Richard Dearden, has failed to provide, despite promises to do so. [Harper seeks delay in hearing over Cadman suit (Toronto Star, Sept. 12, 2008)]

Harper sought the hearing. It was his choice to call an election while it was still in progress. It stands to reason that the court proceedings should be allowed to continue. If it negatively impacts the Conservatives election campaign, too bad. Canadians deserve answers and it’s time Harper started giving them.


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