John Gomery, the jurist whose investigation into the Sponsorship Programme eventually brought down the man who appointed him to it, has decided to retire. Tomorrow he will celebrate his 75th birthday by riding off into the Canadian sunset, capping a long and illustrious career with a new commitment to clean government — even if he took a rather authoritarian tone in doing so (via Newsbeat1):
When John Gomery was named by Paul Martin to head the Adscam sponsorship inquiry in 2004, we were skeptical about how much he would accomplish. Under Jean Chretien, the Liberals became ex-pert at covering their tracks, and we feared that the pattern would continue under Mr. Martin.
But that didn’t happen. To Mr. Martin’s great credit — this fact is too often omitted when people dismiss the man’s short prime ministerial tenure as a failure — he gave Judge Gomery broad powers to get to the bottom of Adscam. And the judge delivered: His inquiry made for a riveting spectacle, with a steady parade of witnesses providing not only the expected excuses and stonewalling, but also ground-breaking new information and astonishing confessions. At the height of the inquiry, no fewer than 200,000 Quebecers were watching it on TV.
By the time the dust had settled, related criminal trials had put key Adscam players behind bars. Sponsorship-program architects such as Alfonso Gagliano fell into political disgrace. And an array of new rules were created to ensure that federal apparatchiks and their PMO overseers would never again have such unfettered discretion to rain millions of dollars from untendered contracts on friends and supporters of the ruling party.
Martin had plenty of reason to regret his choice; Gomery proved to be too good at his job. Martin had little choice but to find an independent and high-profile jurist by that time, of course. Adscam had already blossomed into a big enough scandal that appointing an apparatchik to sweep it under the rug had not been an option. Martin was never implicated in the illegality, but the obviously widespread Liberal corruption eventually toppled his government and made Stephen Harper the Prime Minister.
However, one point has to be scored against Gomery in this instance. He imposed the notorious publication ban on testimony at the public hearings he held when three key witnesses testified. The publication ban, which is perfectly legal in Canada, meant that reporters could attend the public hearing but could not report on any specifics of the testimony. Gomery did not put the proceedings in camera; government officials attending the trial could hear everything, but Canadian citizens were barred from hearing about the inner workings of the scandal that stole hundreds of millions of dollars from them.
As most of you know, that’s where CQ comes into the story. Working with a source at the trial, I published detailed recaps of the testimony — and welcomed a flood of Canadian visitors to my site. After a few days, Gomery relented and lifted the publication ban. The heightened secrecy worked wonders on Canadian curiosity. After the publication ban, Canadians couldn’t get enough of the Gomery inquiry.
In the end, though, it was Gomery’s professional work and tenacity that exposed the Liberals and brought down their government. Clean-government activists around the world owe Gomery a debt, even if free-speech activists might not hold quite as much regard for him. He deserves a splendid retirement and the gratitude of many, and not just Canadians.