|The Ottawa Citizen|
Prime Minister Paul Martin, while finance minister, wanted to abolish the Canada Health Act, end old age pensions and privatize the CBC, former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps alleges in a forthcoming book.
The explosive and vitriolic political memoir, Worth Fighting For, also alleges Mr. Martin won the Liberal leadership over Ms. Copps last year through "widespread, organized fraud."
Ms. Copps subsequently lost the nomination for her Hamilton constituency to Tony Valeri through what she describes as a campaign of "dirty tricks" orchestrated by Mr. Martin's closest associates. That campaign is currently the subject of a police investigation, Ms. Copps writes in a book to be published later this month by McClelland and Stewart.
The portrait generally painted of Mr. Martin in the book is of a man who opposes traditional Liberal social values in favour of a pro-business agenda. He is also depicted as being surrounded by thuggish aides with "more brawn than brains." And, Ms. Copps charges, if Mr. Martin had been prime minister in the spring of 2002, Canada would have joined the United States in invading Iraq.
The Prime Minister's Office was quick to reject allegations in Ms. Copps' new book claiming Paul Martin wanted to scrap the Canada Health Act and go against the wishes of Jean Chretien during the United States-led war on Iraq and send Canadian troops into the fray.
Marc Roy, associate director of communications for the Prime Minister's Office, vehemently denied both claims last night.
"There is an incorrect recollection of things that happened in cabinet. Any suggestion that there ever existed a proposal to scrap the Canada Health Act associated with the 1995 budget, or Mr. Martin, is simply incorrect," he said. "He (Mr. Martin) would not design or support such a proposal."
Mr. Roy went on to say that Mr. Martin has spoken about the Iraq war on many occasions and he has never supported sending Canadian troops into combat in Iraq.
"The prime minister has been on the record a thousand times about Iraq. Never has he suggested anything that Mrs. Copps is alleging.
"The fact is that Paul Martin is the prime minister now. If he wanted troops in Iraq they would be there right now," he said.
"The facts speak for themselves."
Mr. Roy would not comment on why Ms. Copps would make such allegations in her book.
"I won't comment on Mrs. Copps' book or her motives to writing it," he said.
Mr. Martin's director of Communications Scott Reid also denied the allegations.
"We've not had the luxury of seeing a copy of the book, but I can tell you any suggestion that Mr. Martin would have ever proposed or supported scrapping the Canada Health Act, is absolutely false," he said.
"I don't have anything to say to Ms. Copps," he continued. "I'll speak to the fact, and the fact is Paul Martin never did, never would, support the scrapping of the Canada Health Act."
Asked whether he or the prime minister would read the book, Mr. Reid replied:
"I've got no idea."
The PMO's denials notwithstanding, the book will be a wonderful gift to the Liberal party's political opponents. It is not hard to imagine Stephen Harper or Jack Layton reading passages aloud to audiences during the next election campaign. They won't be reading their own words, but the words of a politician who sat around the cabinet table with Mr. Martin for 10 years.
Mr. Martin is not the only target in this unprecedented example of Liberal back-stabbing. Ms. Copps writes that while she was environment minister, Anne McLellan, now deputy prime minister, and Ralph Goodale, now finance minister, joined Mr. Martin and the petroleum industry in consistently plotting behind her back to stop Canada from becoming more environmentally friendly.
Ms. Copps personally takes credit for saving the Canada Health Act from Mr. Martin's axe. That act sets out the principles for the way health care operates in Canada. Rare is the politician from any party who would dare attack it. It is one of the pillars of Canadian democracy. The act, for example, allows the federal government to penalize provinces financially for charging user fees for normally free, medically necessary services.
Mr. Martin tried to make health care the main issue of the last federal election, from which he emerged with a minority government. He did not advocate abolishing or even rewriting the Canada Health Act.
Ms. Copps claims Mr. Martin, in one of his budgets during the first Chretien government (1993-97), planned to announce the end of "the outdated Canada Health Act" and to replace it with something more flexible from the provinces' point of view. As deputy prime minister, Ms. Copps had the right to review the budget before it was delivered the next day.
"When I saw the reference to the Canada Health Act and the proposal to abolish it, I knew that this was political dynamite. For a Liberal government to be doing this was a betrayal of our basic principles. I went to Martin with my concerns, but he shrugged them off, saying it was too late, because the budget had already gone to print."
Ms. Copps says she then appealed to Mr. Chretien, who ordered the Canada Health Act reference removed from the budget, which had not yet been printed, despite Mr. Martin's
assertion. David Dodge, then deputy finance minister and now Bank of Canada governor, faxed a revised budget, minus the offending statement, to Ms. Copps' home just before midnight.
As finance minister early in the first Chretien government, Mr. Martin also came to cabinet one day suggesting the government "abolish the old age pension," Ms. Copps writes. To make his case, Mr. Martin is said to have come armed with figures showing how many seniors had above average incomes.
"He came before cabinet to propose that to be truly successful in wrestling the deficit to the ground, every Canadian had to feel the pain, including seniors."
Mr. Chretien nixed that idea, the book says.
Other proposals from Mr. Martin to abolish regional economic development plans sparked a "horrific fight" in cabinet. Mr. Martin lost.
Most of Ms. Copps' time in the Chretien cabinet was as heritage minister. Shortly after landing at Heritage, Ms. Copps met Mr. Martin to discuss cuts to her department.
" 'Look, Sheila,' said the minister of finance, out of the blue, 'if you want to raise money by privatizing the CBC, I'd have no problem with that.' I just looked at him. I saw to it that the idea went no further while the CBC was under my protection as minister."
Ms. Copps ran twice for the Liberal leadership. First in 1990, when Mr. Chretien won, Mr. Martin placed second and she was third. Last year, only Mr. Martin and Ms. Copps were on the leadership ballot and more than 90 per cent of the votes were for Mr. Martin.
"It was widespread organized fraud directed from the top," Ms. Copps charges.
She cites examples of "bogus" Liberal clubs favourable to Mr. Martin selecting delegates to the leadership convention, nomination meetings skewed to favour the Martin team, disqualification of voters favourable to Ms. Copps, $50 bribes being offered to Martin supporters to show up at meetings and returning officers who deliberately failed to initial ballots cast by Copps supporters.
"My own brother had the ballot torn from his hands in Notre-Dame de Grace (in Montreal) when it was discovered his name was Kevin Copps."
After losing the leadership, Ms. Copps wanted to remain in federal politics even when Mr. Martin indicated she would not be in his cabinet. But she found herself competing against another sitting Liberal MP, Tony Valeri, for the nomination in her riding. She lost that battle as well. Martin aides are blamed for orchestrating a series of "dirty tricks."
"The day of the meeting was Kafkaesque. We estimated that up to a thousand of our people were turned away at the doors. At one point, I was told by the fire department that I had to leave because there were so many people waiting in the corridors that it was a fire hazard. We estimated that 500 more ballots were counted than the number of people who voted. At one point, the chief returning office made a surprising ruling that all uninitialed ballots counted. Later, people found marked ballots stuffed in garbage cans."
The police are now investigating, Ms. Copps says.
Worth Fighting For is being launched by Ms. Copps on Monday with a series of campaign-style events in Ottawa, Montreal and Hamilton. A French-language version of the book is being published simultaneously.
The Citizen received an advance copy of the book on the agreement that its content be embargoed until its publication. That embargo was broken last night by the Canadian Press.
Despite the advance publicity, the book contains many more surprises for readers, said publisher Douglas Gibson of Douglas Gibson Books, McClelland & Stewart.
"It's unfortunate that some of its contents have been leaked to the press anonymously ahead of Sheila's official launch next week," he said. "But in this insider's account of what really went on in Ottawa, there are plenty of revelations still to come."
Ms. Copps' one-time political nemesis, former Conservative minister John Crosbie, has written a supportive introduction to the book and takes a few whacks at Mr. Martin himself. Mr. Chretien has written a foreword, wishing Ms. Copps, "a true Liberal," and her book "every success."
So, does that mean Mr. Chretien endorses the attack on Mr. Martin? Does Mr. Chretien think Mr. Martin is not "a true Liberal?" The plot thickens and thickens.
The reaction from Liberals to this book could ultimately have an impact on Mr. Martin's hold on his leadership. That reaction will also determine whether Ms. Copps' place in history is as a courageous whistle-blower, a cabinet tattle-tale or a vengeful politician scorned.
Meanwhile, Ms. Copps continues her appearances as an actor in a dinner theatre troupe performing Steel Magnolias in Kingston. But the real drama will be unfolding in Ottawa.