Two years ago, when the Canadian political scandal surrounding the Sponsorship Programme reached its zenith of public attention, many wondered how far the scandal would reach in Liberal Party circles. According to the National Post, Judge John Gomery considered the conclusion that criminal misconduct had reached all the way to the top (via Newsbeat1):
Justice John Gomery’s letter of warning to Jean Chretien in May, 2005, said an allegation of misconduct against the former prime minister was being considered in Judge Gomery’s final report that would tie Mr. Chretien to untendered 1995 pre-referendum contracts, including one with Lafleur Communications for an outdoor advertising campaign in Quebec, a transcript of a private meeting reveals.
The transcript shows Mr. Chretien’s lawyer arguing vehemently during a June 1, 2005, closed-door meeting in Montreal with Judge Gomery that the letter did not contain enough details to allow them to prepare their final submission to the judge later that month. …
The verbatim record of the 90-minute meeting has been obtained by CanWest News after it was recently filed as part of Mr. Chretien’s ongoing court action to have Judge Gomery’s report quashed by the Federal Court of Canada because the commissioner had allegedly been biased against him throughout the hearings.
Mr. Doody told Judge Gomery at the meeting that the warning letter’s five allegations weighing against Mr. Chretien were short on details, and a written request to Bernard Roy, the commission’s lead lawyer, for more information had already been rejected.
Chretien had retired by the time of the Gomery inquest, but the effect of allegations against the former Prime Minister would have devastated the Liberal Party and its leadership at the time. Gomery considered it seriously enough to have issued warning letters to Chretien, a legal step required by Canadian law when a judicial inquest considers publishing allegations of criminal misconduct. That allows the target enough time to prepare a public defense, a rather fair-minded requirement, but Chretien’s lawyers argued that Gomery’s letters did not provide enough detail for a comprehensive defense.
In the end, Gomery did not make specific criminal allegations against Chretien. However, Gomery blamed Chretien and his senior aides for the mismanagement that allowed the Sponsorship Programme to blossom into Adscam, where hundreds of millions of dollars disappeared into thin air. Jean Pelletier also complained about the report in its final form, which argued that Pelletier’s specific direction allowed the money to go to political fronts rather than for its intended purpose, which was to sponsor cultural activities to promote Canadian unity in Quebec.
Adscam finished Paul Martin, the Prime Minister during the inquiry and a high-ranking official during the period in which the Liberal Party conducted the Sponsorship Programme. The Conservatives won the next national election and Stephen Harper replaced Martin as Prime Minister in early 2006, a direct result of the fallout from Adscam. The Liberals managed a decent showing in the election, keeping the Tories from an all-out majority — but if Chretien had been accused of criminal conduct, the Liberals would probably have all but given up the ghost.