Listening the radio, I heard this interview and appreciated the revisiting of colourful part of Canadian political history. Thankfully the Current on CBC radio one now fully transcribes their episodes, so I can share the highlights of the interview here.
“AMT: Remind us, what did the Liberal sponsorship scandal involve?
DANIEL LEBLANC: Well, it was kind of—officially, it was national unity program to increase the visibility of Canadian symbols, Canadian signs in Quebec. And let’s remember, this is after the 1995 referendum which was a squeaker, the “no” side won by about 50,000 votes. And Jean Chrétien, the prime minister of the day wanted to make Canada relevant to Quebecers. It was a very simple idea to put up flags and you know there was hot air balloons in the form, in the shape of maple leaf for example, and a bunch of cultural events and sporting events were sponsored by this program in exchange for putting up Canada banners at their event sites. But ultimately, it became embroiled in scandal. There was the advertising firms that were the intermediaries between the government and the events, some of them kickbacked money to the Liberal Party. There were some fraud and some of the events as well were quite close to the Liberal Party of the day. So it became known as a slush fund scandal and you know it kind of became bigger and bigger as time wore on. And you know it led ultimately to the Gomery inquiry in 2004, 2005, which created massive problems for the Liberal Party, especially in Quebec where they lost most of their seats after, during the 2004 election. So it’s kind of a scandal that was about you know more than a decade ago, but it did have a huge impact on Canadian politics of the day.
CHANTAL HÉBERT: Canadians or Quebecers, I think, would take from that sentence the word past rather than the wrestling of chains because so much happened to the Liberal Party over the post-sponsorship decade that Justin Trudeau’s party—in Quebec in particular—certainly bears little resemblance to the party that Jean Chrétien or even Paul Martin led in so many ways. You know when I think about—in hindsight, because now that all these years have gone by—the sponsorship scandal probably was over time a good thing for the Liberal Party. It forced it to renew itself at the time when it desperately needed to do so. Think of it like a brush fire, a really bad one and what grows after the fire is extinguished. That’s literally what just happened to the Liberal party in Quebec and possibly Justin Trudeau’s victory in Quebec—he did win the majority of the seats—would not have happened if the Liberal Party had just gone on and on, on the path that it was set when Jean Chrétien retired.
AMT: Well, tell me a little bit more about that, Chantal. What happened to the Liberal Party insiders in Quebec who then were caught up in this scandal? How did they—what happened after the brush fire?
CHANTAL HÉBERT: Okay. So let’s first go back to that time when Jean Chrétien leaves and Paul Martin comes. The sponsorship has not yet hit the party in the way that it will hit. And at that point, on this week before the sponsorship report from the auditor general comes out, the polls show the Liberals in Quebec at 55 per cent under Paul Martin and the Liberals have been riding very high on Quebec at the tail end of the [unintelligible] era, on the basis of Chrétien’s last decisions and particularly the decision not to sign up for the war in Iraq. But the internal workings of the party were already broken. This is a party that been ongoing a civil war between two factions: Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. And if you want to go back even further, between John Turner and Jean Chrétien as of 1984. By the time Paul Martin becomes prime minister, he sets up the Gomery commission thinking that there is distance between him and the sponsorship stuff because there is really two parties, two warring factions within the party and because it’s two main characters. Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin are from Quebec. Quebec is a battleground where people are gunning for the other faction and the sponsorship affair takes place in the middle of that and that kind of forces everybody off the ice. Within a couple of years, there is no Liberal left that is elected in ridings where the vast majority of voters are Francophones in Quebec. They are pushed back to the west end of Montreal. After the Orange wave, there is not even a seat left in the [unintelligible] region, which is a highly Federalist region. So by the time Justin Trudeau becomes leader, there is no Liberal party.”
Listen to, or read the full transcript at the link below.