Mulroney memoirs (Sept 13, 2007)

The Mulroney questions that won’t go away

So Brian Mulroney believes Pierre Trudeau’s youthful opposition to fighting the Nazis in World War II “doesn’t qualify him for any position of moral leadership in our society.”

Then how does Mulroney imagine his ongoing, continuing never-ending refusal to answer simple, reasonable questions about the envelopes stuffed with $300,000 in cash he took from a controversial German-Canadian influence peddler at secret meetings in restaurants and hotels in the months after he left the highest office in the land qualifies him for sainthood?

Mulroney and his high-priced, too-clever-by-half handlers had to know that questions about the mysterious payments — which, conveniently, occurred just after the time this autobiographical ramble ends at the end of his prime ministership — would bubble back to the surface anyway during Mulroney’s current memoir media offensive.

That payment wasn’t the only difficult issue they knew they would have to parry. There was, of course, the drinking. In the years between his humiliating loss at the 1976 Tory convention that chose his arch-rival and lesser, Joe Clark, as party leader and his ultimate victory over “that loser” Clark seven years later, there were more-than-just rumours circulating in gossipy Ottawa that Mulroney was drowning his sorrows in booze and recrimination.

In his memoir, Mulroney tackles the issue head on, acknowledging that, after the 1976 convention, he drank far too much and slipped into what he calls an “unbecoming display of bitterness and improper conduct,” and that he isn’t really sure how his wife “tolerated” him during those years.

During his CTV interview, he was described as looking “uncomfortable” as he talked about that period of his life. But it was effective because he appeared to be speaking honestly.

Of course, the saving grace — from the spin perspective — is that there’s a happy ending to that story. Mulroney, convinced by family and friends of the damage he was doing, finally “woke up one morning and said I am never going to have another drink.” And he hasn’t. Triumph. Redemption.

Karlheinz Schreiber? Not so simple. Or so fully resolved.

So, rather than answer polite, puffball questions about the affair from what has always been a overly respectful national media, Mulroney did what he does best — and worst. He counter-attacked. “This is the usual trash and trivia of politics,” he declared dismissively of the Schreiber questions. And then quickly ran and hid behind the skirts of his legal team, claiming he couldn’t say more because of ongoing litigation.

“I’ve won every case, I’ve won everything at every step of the road, and I’ll continue to do so,” he boasted, neglecting to mention that his most significant legal victory — his $50-million lawsuit against the federal government in 1995 that was settled a year later with Ottawa apologizing and agreeing to pay Mulroney’s $20 — is now tainted because his under-oath description of his relationship with the shadowy Schreiber seems… well, not to fit the facts as we have come to know them.

Not to worry. “I’m going to write about it my next book,” Mulroney smiley-faced for the camera.

Not good enough, Mr. Mulroney.

If you want to claim the mantle of “moral leadership” you believe is so ill-fitting in Mr. Trudeau’s case, you need to stop playing games and start answering questions.

What exactly did you do to earn that $300,000 from Schreiber? Where’s the documentation to show how you earned your “consulting” fee? Letters you wrote? Phone calls you made? To whom? Actions you took? Did you invoice Schreiber for your services? What was your per-hour rate for this project?

Why did you agree to accept payments in cash? Were you aware that the money came from Swiss accounts Schreiber had allegedly used to “grease” the sale of Airbus jets to Air Canada? And that one of them appeared to identify you in code as the recipient?

How did you account for the $300,000 in your financial records at the time? In what year did you claim this income — as you say you did — as part of your tax return?

Why did you testify under oath as part of your lawsuit against the federal government that “I never had any dealings with him [Schreiber],” when, in fact, you had had $300,000 worth of dealings?

Perhaps when you start answering those questions instead of avoiding them, you will be entitled to claim moral leadership. Until then, well, there are still questions. Lots of them.

Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column, “Kimber’s Nova Scotia,” appears in the Sunday Daily News.

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