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The first taste of Chuck Guite's testimony -- Paul Martin is named

Still there? OK, here goes.

Vickers & Benson is a major advertising concern. Their goal:

Our business is, at its core, very simple: We sell - things, ideas, services. Our approach is from a customer perspective. We make it our business to know who they are, how they live their lives, how they think, what speaks to them and what doesn't.

Knowing what the customer thinks is easier when the customer is the Canadian government, and you have Chuck Guite on your side.

When V&B was purchased by Arnold Worldwide Partners in Boston, which is in turn owned by Havas in Paris, France, they had a concern that they would lose Canadian government contracts, since in principle the Canadian government would prefer to spend money on entirely Canadian-owned firms. In fact, the sale to the American group was contingent on knowing that those contracts would not be pulled. So they put in a call to Chuck Guite.

Chuck Guite met with Public Works Minister Alphonse Gagliano, who said he would look after it. A week later, Guite got a call from Pierre Tremblay, who said the two ministers had been contacted and that the guarantees were in place. Which ministers?

One was Minister of Industry (in charge of Tourism Canada, a major purchaser of advertising), John Manley. He ran to succeed Jean Chretien, but dropped out when the Paul Martin machine made it clear no one else could win.

The other was the Minister of Finance, Paul Martin.

How could the guarantees be made given that these are supposed to be open competitions?

CG: The interfe -- I don't want to use that word -- the Minister had spoken to both ministers [Martin and Manley] and the volume of business would be maintained.

ROY: How could such an assurance be given if we are to start from the premise or operate from the premise that all advertising contracts are let out after a competition process?

CG: I think that the system could delay it.

ROY: Could delay what?

CG: The competition. It has been done in the past.

ROY: But short of that, what else can be done?

CG: Re-compete it and have V&B win it again.

ROY: In other words, arrange for V&B to win the competition?

CG: Definitely.

So the bidding process was fixed, and the business guaranteed, in order to faciliate the sale of a major Canadian advertising concern to the French. Of course, this is par for the course:

Under Paul Martins watch as Finance Minister, Canada saw the highest rates of foreign takeovers in Canadian history. Canada is now the most foreign owned industrialized nation o­n earth! Competitiveness has decreased each year under the Liberals as it did with the PCs before them. Innovation through research has also plummeted as all the foreign owned corporations and industries no longer spend that money here in Canada. Yes Martin did have some spending initiatives over the years but again, o­ne peek at the raw numbers and any Canadian will see, Paul Martin has run Canada like his ships, o­n the cheap and to make profits for the elite.

Whatever your opinion about foeign ownership, you would have to agree that cheating, either to prevent a sale, or (perhaps worse) to faciliate it, is beyond the pale.

What is not clear is how the Liberal Party directly benefitted from help Vickers & Benson become part of the Havas family. It is clear however that Vickers & Benson contributed $93,852.44 from 1993 to 2003 to the Liberal Party, including a whopping $13,933.40 in 2000, the year of the sale. John Hayter, the chairman and CEO, donated $1000 in 2000 as well.

During the same period, a total of $2000 was donated to the Progressive Conservative Party.

We do know from the Auditor General's report that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation spent $2.4 million on advertising contracts through the Sponsorship Program, and that Vickers & Benson received over $350,000 of that money without any contract.

And what about that other player in this drama, Pierre Tremblay?

Pierre Tremblay, one of the key figures at the centre of the $250-million ads and sponsorship scandal and a former long-time Parliament Hill staffer, died Oct. 5 after a long illness and only weeks before he was to be called before the Gomery Inquiry for questioning.

News of his death barely caused a stir on Parliament Hill.

But according to those who knew him well, he died haunted by what the scandal had done to his long career in Ottawa, one that stretched nearly two decades in federal Liberal politics.

"Knowing Pierre's character, definitely for him it was tough to handle," said Alfonso Gagliano, the former Public Works minister and Mr. Tremblay's former boss, speaking of the impact the sponsorship scandal had on his longtime aide who died in Ottawa at the age of 52.

So there you have it. Paul Martin is named, by a dead man, as a minister who gave assurances that a contract would be maintained in order to faciliate a sale of a Canadian company to foreign interests. This ban must be lifted and quickly so that questions can be posed in the House of Commons.

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