Judge heading inquiry will resign from copyright post: Opponents say appointee may just be another 'Liberal hack'
Robert Fife and Bill Curry
February 19, 2004
OTTAWA -- The Montreal judge heading the public inquiry into the Quebec corruption scandal is also serving as a Liberal government appointee as chairman of the Copyright Board of Canada, casting doubt on his objectivity, the chairman of the Commons public accounts committee said Wednesday.
John Williams, the Tory MP in charge of the committee's hearing into the sponsorship fiasco, said it would be irresponsible for Justice John Gomery of the Quebec Superior Court to serve on the board while heading the public inquiry.
But Scott Reid, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Paul Martin, said Wednesday night that Gomery will resign from the federal board as soon as the inquiry begins hearings.
"He himself indicated immediately that he did not think it would be tenable for him to continue as chair of the copyright board, so what he has indicated is that he will not serve as both capacities," said Reid.
"So before hearings begin, he will be stepping down as chair of the copyright board and a replacement will be named."
Williams raised concerns that Martin chose a judge who was a "good friend of the Liberal party" and suggested the board appointment could tarnish the work of the public inquiry.
"We were told by the prime minister that this judge was independent and with a great deal of integrity," he said. "Now we find out he may just be another Liberal hack who is going to provide that great openness and tell all when the fix is in."
NDP MP Pat Martin also said he has trouble with the idea of Gomery as head of the public inquiry if he was given an order-in-council job by the Jean Chretien government. Gomery was first appointed to the board in 1999 and reappointed for another three-year term in 2002.
"If he has been the beneficiary of any Liberal largess, it should disqualify him immediately from arguably the most delicate and sensitive position in the last century," Martin said.
Williams also complained the government may not be allowing his committee to properly examine the sponsorship scandal because they've allowed parliamentary secretaries to serve on the committee. Parliamentary secretaries report to the prime minister.
Gomery's part-time job at the board has no remuneration. The Copyright Act requires the chairman to be a judge, and the Judges Act prohibits judges from receiving salaries other than their judicial salary. As a superior court justice, he makes $216,600.
The terms of reference for the sponsorship inquiry were expected to be announced Wednesday, but Public Works Minister Stephen Owen said at least another day was needed to complete the statement.
"They're not quite ready yet. Some of the administrative details are still being worked out," he said.
But the opposition pounced on the delay, arguing the terms of reference should have already been announced.
"I wouldn't think that knowing where the office of the commission is going to be is important to knowing what the terms of reference are to get going," said NDP leader Jack Layton. "It just seems to be a bit slow. I also hope that we get a clear indication that it's not going to drag on for a year. That's the last thing Canadians would want to see."
Though most federal inquiries have taken at least a year to publish a final report, Layton said this inquiry could be finished within three months given that the auditor general has already studied the issue in depth.
Interim Conservative leader Grant Hill said his party is counting on the public accounts committee, which is chaired by the opposition, to do a better job than the public inquiry.
"I think that [inquiry] is likely to go well after the next election and is not as useful as the public accounts committee," he said. "I'm not surprised by that delay. This is the type of thing that could take a very, very long time. The terms of reference, calling witnesses -- and on and on it goes."
© The Vancouver Sun 2004