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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

CSL sails into the campaign

From today's edition of Norman's Spectator
(with articles hotlinked).

The Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail provide straight coverage of Paul Martin's health announcement, neatly separating news and opinion and giving opposition and provincial nay-sayers their say. So does the National Post, though editors cannot resist adding spin in the headline (PM makes health top priority: Have Liberals won 'mother of all lotteries?' Tory leader asks).

Jeff Simpson is getting a bit tiresome on health care. Thomas Walkom in the Star and Jeff Sallot in the Globe do fine reality checks; the Sun’s Greg Weston and the Post’s John Ivison don’t do so well. (Memo to Greg: millions of Canadians will die in the coming years. Period.) Jim Travers is better on the front page of the Star than today's rather Socratic piece by Andrew Coyne on page one of the Post.

Yesterday’s slowpokes find neat ways to follow up on Robert Benzie’s story in the Star; Bob Fife, in particular, has some good quotes from David Herle and Paul Martin on Earnsclilffe's role in the Ontario budget. La Presse Canadienne's Isabelle Rodrigue catches Paul Martin correcting Jean Lapierre's goof about a minority government, and stumbling over his words again.

In summation, the Liberals made news yesterday, and thank God, or the Ottawa Citizen, for today’s

** top story

Martin consulted on rules that benefited his company: Pension fund changes used years later by CSL to pocket $82.5

The Ottawa Citizen’s Glen McGregor reports,

“Newly released documents from 1995 suggest that then-finance minister Paul Martin was consulted on changes to pension rules that later helped his family shipping company take $82.5 million out of its employee pension plan, the Conservative party charged yesterday.

In a 1995 briefing note written for Mr. Martin, then-superintendent of financial institutions John Palmer writes that "your idea" and "your question" about allowing employers to use pension surpluses would give them "a more flexible regime."

In consultation with Mr. Palmer's office, the government changed the pension rules three years later. Last summer, Mr. Martin's shipping company, Canada Steamship Lines, used provisions of the revised law to liquidate its $165-million pension surplus and split the fund equally between the company and its pension plan members.

But the prime minister's communications director, Mario Lague, insists Mr. Martin had no involvement with the file. He says the "you" that Mr. Palmer refers to in the note is actually Douglas Peters, a junior minister responsible for the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) who is copied on the memo.

It was pro forma to address the correspondence to Mr. Martin, Mr. Lague said.

Because of the CSL pension surplus, Mr. Martin had been advised by former ethics counselor Howard Wilson to avoid any discussion of changes to the Pension Benefits Standards Act, which set out the conditions for employers to cash in their pension plan overruns. Discussions about pension reform were left to Mr. Peters.

"On something like that, there's a gatekeeper at the office of the minister of finance who would say, 'Whoops, that one ain't going through. Send it straight to Mr. Peters," Mr. Lague said of the memo.

Mr. Peters said yesterday he didn't remember the exchange with Mr. Palmer, but did have a keen interest in the subject of pension reform. "I don't recall back that far, but it probably was my request," he said.

Conservative party finance critic Monte Solberg said he doesn't buy that explanation.

"If it's addressed to Paul Martin and the pronouns are 'you' and that kind of thing. It pretty strongly suggests that it is a proposal that came from Paul Martin," Mr. Solberg said. "It's outrageous that he would seemingly be directly involved in something that is in his area as finance minister."

** (Runner-up)

Ouellet audit quietly moved to PM's office: Opposition fears report will be held until after election campaign

The National Post underplays Andrew McIntosh’s report (Memo to editors: What’s a journalist Paul Martin brought into the Finance Department doing with his hands on the report and, for that matter, in a senior Privy Council Office position?):

“The minister responsible for Canada Post has quietly handed responsibility for an audit that examines president Andre Ouellet's conduct in the sponsorship affair to the Privy Council Office, raising concerns the government will delay releasing the report until after the June 28 election.

Stan Keyes last week referred responsibility for the audit, which offers an examination of senior Canada Post management sponsorship decisions and conduct, to officials in the Privy Council Office, which is the prime minister's department.

PCO spokesman Francois Jubinville confirmed that Mr. Keyes had handed responsibility for the delicate matter to his department, where it is being handled by Dale Eisler, the assistant secretary to the cabinet on communications issues.

A copy of the audit findings "or whatever form it's at" has not been shared with the government, though oral briefings about those findings may have been given, Mr. Jubinville said.”

Posted by Norman Spector on May 26, 2004 | Permalink

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