Column for April 23, 2006

Not asking the $300,000 question

Google, the Internet search engine, was almost puppy-eager to be helpful after it had returned from its first global source scouring with not a single, solitary news story in response to my query.

So it offered suggestions.

“Make sure all words are spelled correctly.” Check.

“Try different keywords.” No luck.

“Try more general keywords.” Nada.

“Try fewer keywords.” OK, now we’re finally getting somewhere. And nowhere.

On Friday morning, I began my search of Google Canada’s database of more than 4,500 news sources in pursuit of the story I was certain must be there somewhere.

“Mulroney,” I typed. Then “Schreiber.”

I knew Brian Mulroney had been in Ottawa the day before to be feted as the greenest prime minister Canada ever had. That “green,” of course, had to do with his sterling commitment to the environment, and did not — as I’d once wistfully imagined — have something to do with the green of that mysterious $300,000 in cash that a palm-greasing German-Canadian lobbyist-businessman named Karlheinz Schreiber had furtively handed him in $100,000 bunches soon after he left office.

I also knew that the Ottawa press gallery had plenty of time on its hands these days, what with Stephen Harper having duct-taped shut the lips of his cabinet ministers, and then refusing to answer any questions himself that weren’t questions he’d already addressed without answering. Thank you very much.

The boys on the bus must be bored by now.

Surely, they’d use the occasion of Mulroney’s presence in their nation’s capital to finally get around to asking him about the $300,000. And about a CBC Fifth Estate

documentary that aired in February. The hour-long story featured an interview with Schreiber, in which he had not only neatly connected some of the missing dots between our former prime minister and his Swiss bank accounts, but also made mock of Mulroney’s insistence those cash payments were intended to cover his consulting work on a new pasta business Schreiber was starting. Schreiber’s on-camera laugh lasted at least 10 seconds. “What had he done for the money?” Schreiber then repeated host Linden MacIntyre’s question. “Well, I learned to my great surprise that he worked with me on spaghetti.”

Surely, that’s worth asking about?

I guess not.

Nothing on Mulroney, Schreiber.

Different keywords? I tried “Mulroney” and “scandal.” This led me to the weekly cable listings at Texas’ Fort Worth Star-Telegram

newspaper, where I discovered that the 2003 movie The Flower of Evil

, was about a politician who must deal with a “scandal,” while, a few listings below, that actor Dermot “Mulroney” was starring in the 1998 Goodbye Lover

in which “murder arises when a femme fatale’s hot affair cools down.” Nothing about Brian, or Schreiber or the $300,000.

Using more general keywords — “prime minister” and “pasta” — generated nine hits but they were mostly about the ongoing controversy over the Italian election results.

It wasn’t until I reduced the number of keywords to one — “Mulroney” — that I got some serious returns: 396 hits, ranging from the Toronto Star’s

“Green Thumbs Up for Mulroney” to the London Free Press’s

“Mulroney Enjoys Accolades.”

The Globe and Mail’s

Jane Taber gushed that Mulroney had “joked, laughed, and told old war stories, then delivered a thoughtful speech on his environmental legacy… By the end, he had the crowd eating out of his hand.”

And the press too, no doubt. Who would want to bite the hand that feeds them so well?

Certainly not the Ottawa press gallery.


Quote of the Week

: This week’s quote of the week is “Rodney MacDonald.” Oops, sorry, I meant the source

of this week’s (and of almost every week since he was sworn in) most quotable quote is our new premier.

In his short time in office, MacDonald has proved himself a master of the maladroit.

Consider his response to a reporter’s question about whether he planned to consult with the opposition parties about his government’s plans for the spring session of the legislature. “We’re open to any suggestion the opposition would provide,” he began well enough, but then quickly careened off into his own neverland. “But, at the end of the day,,” he said, “we’ve been given a mandate to govern, and we will govern.”

Uh, Rodney… who gave you a mandate to govern? Surely not the people of Nova Scotia.

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