First, I wish to note that this post is being created without my having read the Gomery report itself, and therefore I am relying at this time on what has been released to the media since 11am AST when the report was tabled in the House. From the outset I have maintained that this really was a Chretien scandal and not a Martin scandal. One of the things that really irritated me last election was listening to the CPC going on and on that Martin had to know because he was Finance Minister. The reason I was irritated was because the Finance Minister sets the budget for the entire government and not for each department internally. In other words it was not the role of the Finance Minister to set budgets within each department but rather to set the entire government's budget, allocate to each Ministry. The CPC was playing on the unfortunate ignorance of most Canadians of the actual structure of how our federal government works, and I found that more than a little disingenuous and dishonest. Yet to this day I still run across CPC supporters making this argument despite the inherent inaccuracy it is premised upon.
However, why I was convinced Martin knew little to nothing of the problems with this program comes down to basic political common sense. Ever since the 1990 leader race which Martin lost to Chretien there was tension between the two men. Indeed, initially it was a surprise that Chretien named Martin Finance Minister because of it, and one of the more respect worthy aspects of the Chretien government was his ability to work with his rival to the benefit of the party, the government, and the country. However the deal was that Martin had full authority within his sphere of responsibility within some boundaries established by Chretien. This worked reasonably well until the end of the 90s, where the tensions between the two camps within the Liberal party was again surfacing. For one of the conditions of the deal that Chretien had with Martin was that he would have the chance to succeed him as Liberal leader and PM. So it was increasingly clear that the already present distance between the two men was becoming more pronounced by this time. Chretien decided to stay on for a third run, and in the process linked himself to Martin rather extensively so as to gain himself support in Quebec where Chretien's stock had been falling unlike Martin's.
After the 2000 election it was becoming painfully obvious that the working relationship between Martin and Chretien was all but completely destroyed. There was a very visible to the public split between two wings within the Liberal party, the Chretien wing which was in ascendance, and the Martin wing which for the most part were kept in second tier positions within Cabinet when they were able to get into it at all. As we all know in 2002 Martin departed from Cabinet under pressure from Chretien. So we have a clearly established history of tension and distance between these two men from the very beginnings of this Liberal government from 1993 onwards.
Why did I go through all that first? To lay the groundwork for my take on why in this case one can see the Martin Liberals as significantly different than the Chretien Liberals in makeup and structure. That this is not a skin deep difference but one of more substance than simply a change of leaders and a shuffling of Cabinet. That one cannot automatically lump them all together as one entity. That also underscores the fact that there was much tension between these two wings, with the Martinites trying to edge Chretien out in the late 90s, and not much trust between the two wings within the parties, nor between the two men leading each wing.
This is important. For Chretien had to know that there was some problems with the way the Sponsorship program was being handled, he had to know because he oversaw it directly through his office as Gomery notes. That Gagliano was his main interface politically within the Quebec wing of the Liberal party. That this was a tightly run insider program within the Chretien camp/wing of the Liberal party. So one has to consider the following: Why would Chretien give Martin any information that he could use to unseat Chretien from the Leadership, which the Sponsorship program most certainly could be used to do. So it makes perfect sense for Chretien to keep Martin and his loyalists within the Liberal party out of the loop on this matter.
Then there is the way this scandal broke. If Chretien had been putting the Liberal party first he would not have withheld release of the AG report until after he left office, making it the very first thing Martin had to deal with as PM. To me this looked more like Chretien saying to Martin :" You wanted my job so badly? Well here you go, you can take responsibility for my mess, and the probability of it tarnishing your leadership and likely costing you the PMship in the next election." Remember, it was Sponsorship that cost Martin the chance for a majority that everyone had expected to see happen prior to this scandal blowing up. In other words Chretien stuck a knife dead center into Martin's back as his parting gift. He set Martin up to fail as his successor, and the fact that Martin was able to manage to retain government albeit with a minority party is a testament to Martin's skills AND in many ways even more thanks to the disarray and arrogance of the CPC in thinking that now that there was only one party on the right that with such a scandal they were all but assured becoming the next government.
From everything I have seen and heard regarding the Gomery report today, this is entirely consistent with this perspective. Martin really did not know what was going on, nor as Finance Minister should he have automatically known nor was he required/responsible to know by virtue of his position as Finance Minister despite all the claims to the contrary by the opposition parties especially the CPC. This was a Chretien scandal from top to bottom, and one of the benefits of the "purging" of the Chretienites when Martin took over and the election that followed was that virtually all of the major players in this scandal were no longer in positions of influence/authority within the government. The Liberal party itself doesn't come out looking that good, especially the Quebec wing, but again it traces back through the Chretien organization within the Liberal party and not the Martin wing. This is why they were furious with Martin for establishing the Gomery report instead of trying to hush it up as they would have preferred.
Martin deserves full credit for canceling the Sponsorship program immediately upon becoming PM. He also deserves full credit for establishing this commission with Gomery so soon afterwards, and for taking all of the lumps that this has given him, despite his having nothing to do with this issue prior to taking ownership of it thanks to Chretien leaving him to have to table the AG report which set this all off. In the short run this has hurt the Liberal brand, however this willingness to have this open commission and taking the fallout from it may well over the long term do much to restore Liberal credibility. Martin took some real chances with this action, real risks, both with his own reputation and political future and the future of the Liberal party of Canada. Since this kind of inquiry is not something that usually happens in government scandals it is hard to argue that Martin followed the time honoured method of dealing with such scandals.
This is as far as I am comfortable discussing the Gomery report until I have had a chance to read at least the summary of the report, let alone the full document. Needless to say that will likely take some time given it's length, but it is something I fully intend to do. I prefer to see for myself what something says rather than having to live with what I am told by others what it is it. I really prefer to examine source material for myself before making my mind up. Until then though the opposition, especially the CPC and Bloc, are going to have a harder time of it claiming Martin had to know, that he has been hiding his involvement, etc. They are now left with the argument that there is no real difference between the Chretien Liberal government and the Martin Liberal government, and how well that will fly is yet to be determined. I expect it will be interesting to see how the average Canadian sees this as opposed to those of us that follow politics more closely out of personal interest or profession reasons. Incidentally, the former is my reason, I was raised in a family with strong political ties to both Liberals and Conservatives for the past century or so, including several elected members of government Provincial and Federal as direct ancestors.