Skip to comments.The secret caller who exposed Adscam (for once 'investigative reporting' served the public good)
Posted on 10/21/2006 10:36:30 AM PDT by GMMAC
The secret caller who exposed Adscam
DANIEL LEBLANC reveals how an anonymous tipster
helped him break the federal sponsorship scandal
Toronto Globe and Mail
Saturday, October 21, 2006
OTTAWA -- The phone call came on June 1, 2000. The woman had a quiet voice, and she wanted our conversation, and her identity, to remain a secret. She had read my recent story on the sponsorship program in The Globe and Mail, and urged me to dig further.
The call couldn't have come at a more opportune time. I had been interested in Ottawa's aggressive advertising campaign in Quebec for a few years, and had written four stories on the subject.
In particular, on the day before my conversation with this woman, I had used documents obtained under the Access to Information Act to show that three-quarters of the funding was heading into Quebec. The situation was absurd: The Calgary Stampede had received nothing from the pot of federal funds destined for cultural and sporting events, while the Festival Western de Saint-Tite, in Quebec, had obtained $40,000.
Western MPs were furious. "We didn't need this story, I can assure you," said John Harvard, then a Liberal MP from Winnipeg.
I was happy to have shone a bit of light on the $40-million-a-year sponsorship program. Until then, there had been much secrecy surrounding the initiative, which was created in 1996 after the second referendum on Quebec sovereignty, narrowly won by federalist forces. There was no specific application form for groups interested in receiving funding, no official website and not much knowledge about it outside Quebec.
After those four articles, however, I had no other avenues to follow, no leads to chase. In fact, I had no specific intention of pursuing the matter further -- until that phone call.
I became aware of the Chrétien government's obsession with visibility as an aide to a Liberal MP in 1995. It was my first job out of university, and I noticed that federal officials thought they were losing the advertising war with the separatist Parti Québécois, and were looking for ways to catch up.
For a variety of reasons, I left the world of politics and headed to journalism school. After a stint as a freelancer and an intern, I got a job at The Globe and Mail's parliamentary bureau in 1998.
Trolling for stories on slow days, I started digging for the cost of Ottawa's visibility campaign, which was more and more obvious to the naked eye in Quebec. Flags were popping up everywhere, the referendum-obsessed federal government plainly bracing for a rematch.
I found out that Ottawa was spending $3-million to put up brightly lit "Canada" signs on federal buildings across the country. And on Dec. 31, 1999 -- the eve of Y2K -- I wrote that the federal government had paid $324,000 to rent a hot-air balloon in the shape of an RCMP officer on a horse. It was a lot of money, given the force's money woes.
My interest in the sponsorship program was slowly growing. During a party at the time, a well-informed former colleague clued me in to the scope of the program in Quebec, noting the rapid influx of federal cash. In addition, he explained how the initiative had been run by a bureaucrat unlike any other: Joseph-Charles Guité.
"Chuck," as everyone called the cowboy-hat-wearing advertising czar, was a bit like the sponsorship program itself: in your face and not so subtle. As my former colleague said, Mr. Guité had forged tight links with a number of senior Liberal officials and the owners of a few plugged-in advertising firms.
He also gave me an unconfirmed tip: Mr. Guité had recently retired, but before leaving the government, he had allegedly offered a few sweet contracts to advertising agencies.
In early January, 2000, I wrote another request under the Access to Information Act, asking the Department of Public Works to release ". . . all records detailing the sponsorship budget."
Unbeknownst to me, the request caused a commotion within Public Works. An official in the office of then-minister Alfonso Gagliano tried to block the release of the complete list of $144-million in sponsorship funding since 1996. Instead, a second list of sponsorship projects worth only $82-million was put together to send to me. Some of the projects deleted from the full list included contracts later proved fraudulent in court.
Fortunately, the bureaucrat in charge of the access-to-information branch at Public Works, Anita Lloyd, refused to sign off on the second list. "I thought it wasn't legal, and I thought it wasn't ethical," she said at the Gomery inquiry about the attempt to feed an incomplete list to The Globe and Mail.
With that stance, Ms. Lloyd allowed me and a colleague, Campbell Clark, to get a look at the entire program and eventually dig into specific projects.
But when I first received the full document in May, 2000, my initial thought was that it looked like a mishmash of numbers and names. I had hoped to prove that Mr. Guité had offered a few inflated contracts to advertising firms before his retirement, but I couldn't spot anything coming close to that.
Then I had a flash. As I flipped through the pages, I noticed that in the first column on the left-hand side of the database, the document listed the province in which the sponsored events took place. While regions such as Ontario, the Atlantic and the West each took one or two pages, the list of Quebec events went on and on, page after page.
I had my story, which ran in the paper on May 31 of that year.
The following day, I received my first phone call from the anonymous reader, who said there was a lot more to know about the sponsorship program.
She said a number of advertising firms were overcharging the federal government for their role in the program, and kicking back funds to the Liberal Party of Canada. In that call, she stated so many facts, names and numbers that I assumed I wasn't dealing with a bluffer.
I needed a way to stay in touch with her. She obviously didn't want to give me her name or phone number, so we settled on e-mail. Later that day, she called back with an address she had just created. Using a nickname that roughly translates as "my dear" or "honey," she called herself MaChouette.
That became the code name I used to refer to this secret source in conversations with Mr. Clark. Over time, MaChouette's tips led to the unearthing of Groupaction Marketing Inc.'s so-called "missing report," which got Auditor-General Sheila Fraser and the RCMP to investigate sponsorship contracts.
MaChouette also alerted me to the presence in the sponsorship program of Jacques Corriveau, a Liberal organizer and friend of then-prime minister Jean Chrétien. Mr. Corriveau was eventually named by the Gomery inquiry as "the central figure in an elaborate kickback scheme by which he enriched himself personally and provided funds and benefits to the [Liberal Party]."
MaChouette and I exchanged frequent e-mails from 2000 to 2002. Through it all, I had no idea who she was, where she worked or how she obtained her information. I never quoted her or revealed her existence in dozens of articles I wrote on the subject.
Eventually, though, I did deduce who she was, and met with her. Today, I dare say her first phone call was instrumental in getting the ball rolling on what became the biggest political scandal in modern Canadian history.
Daniel Leblanc is a parliamentary correspondent at The Globe and Mail. His reporting helped The Globe win the 2004 Michener Award for public-service journalism. This article is adapted from his French-language book, Nom de Code: MaChouette, to be released next week.
I thought the article quite interesting as an example of the work of a true investigative reporter and how valuable their work can be.
Well, Good Golly! And thank you kindly- crosslinking here:
Thank you- I will add that as well.
( Just an Old Keyboard Cowboy, etc., etc...)