Sponsorship Scandal | 20 years ago, the case shook Canadian politics

(Québec) It may remain a scandal with no effect, one of those stories where we see the predictable cocktail of politics, favoritism and greed. A psychodrama as we see in every parliamentary session. But the ingredients are there for it to be quite different.

Posted at 5:00 am

Denis Lessard

Denis Lessard
The Press

Twenty years ago, in May 2002, Canada’s Auditor General Sheila Fraser began her investigation into what would become the “sponsorship scandal”, the first step in a chain reaction that would have rocked the scene for years. . federal politics.

Mako Fraser would submit a disastrous report to the Chrétien government in November 2003. But as he was preparing to step down from his seat, Jean Chrétien canceled the parliamentary session. The report could not be filed and made public until February 2004. Paul Martin, the successor, was the one who had to provide the accounts, which would cause him irreparable harm. He will entrust Judge John Gomery with the mandate to shed light on the sponsorship scheme.


Paul Martin in 2004

In November 2005, the judge, now deceased, ruled that there was a partisan network, to the knowledge of Prime Minister Chrétien. But the commission’s rebuke did not last long. The court ruled that Mr. Chrétien was not eligible to be elected.


Jean Chrétien during his testimony before the Gomery commission in 2005

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigations, they had consequences. Advertising agency owners Jean Brault, Jean Lafleur and Paul Coffin were convicted. Charles Chuck Guité, an assistant deputy minister at Public Works, a pivotal figure in the distribution of contracts, was sentenced to 30 months in prison. A longtime friend of Jean Chrétien, Jacques Corriveau was convicted of embezzlement of 5 million dollars. He will receive four years in prison in January 2017, but he will die before his appeal ends.

  • John Brault


    John Brault

  • John Lafleur


    John Lafleur

  • Charles Chuck Guite


    Charles Chuck Guite

  • Jacques Corriveau in 2016


    Jacques Corriveau in 2016


The method that makes a lot of money from communication companies essentially from Quebec really does exist. After the very close result of the 1995 referendum, the Chrétien government was shocked. Everything seems reasonable to increase the visibility of the federal government in Quebec. Sheila Fraser estimated that one hundred million dollars out of the 250 allocated to the sponsorship program from 1997 to 2002 was wasted by these communication boxes, and partially redirected to PLC election funds. Almost all of the money went to Quebec, which was distributed without objective standards.


Sheila Fraser, Auditor General of Canada, in 2004

“It is impossible for us in most cases to determine why an event was chosen to sponsor, how the level of sponsorship was established or the federal visibility it provided”, the verifier concludes.

The Bloc was revived

Prior to the emergence of the sponsorship scandal, the Bloc Québécois seemed to be on borrowed time. “Martin had 60% support in the Quebec polls, we were 20. In an interview, a TV host even told me that he saw me for the last time!” Recalled Gilles Duceppe, then head of the Bloc .However, the third party will benefit greatly from the embarrassment of the Liberals.The slogan of 2004 sparked scandal: “The Bloc, a party specific to Quebec”.


Gilles Duceppe at a press briefing during the 2004 election campaign

From 38 deputies in 2000, he would get 54 in the 2004 elections, and almost as many as in 2006. “We asked at least 400 questions about sponsorships in the Commons,” Duceppe summed up in a recent interview. A Bloc source at the time said that in the fall of 2000, two years ago, the “election platform noted that Groupe Everest, Groupaction and Lafleur Communications had all received contracts worth several million. […] through sponsorship initiatives programs. Both of these companies contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the PLC election fund.

A researcher from the Bloc Québécois has a known official close to the Public Works file. We will put the latter in contact with a journalist from Globe and Mailshe will be MaChouette, a whistleblower who is always anonymous.

This will be the heart of a series of tough reports published by Daniel Leblanc and his colleague Campbell Clark. The title of Leblanc’s work during this period is reminiscent of this fruitful collaboration: Code name: MyOwl.

Before the Chrétien government ordered the auditor to investigate, the Minister of Public Works, Alfonso Gagliano, was removed and appointed ambassador to Denmark. He will be fired and reinstated once Fraser’s report is filed in February 2004. But for a former colleague who wants to remain anonymous, Gagliano doesn’t know everything that’s going on. Jean Pelletier, ex-chief of staff of Chrétien, Jacques Corriveau and Chuck Guité formed a rigorous committee that decided on important matters. Back in 2000, Gagliano requested an internal audit, we insisted.

  • Jean Pelletier, former chief of staff of Jean Chrétien, in 2005


    Jean Pelletier, former chief of staff of Jean Chrétien, in 2005

  • Alfonso Gagliano in 2005


    Alfonso Gagliano in 2005


The conclusion is that Groupaction and Groupe Everest have each pocketed more than a quarter of contracts, contrary to federal rules. In addition, some agencies overcharge for services already paid for. the world will reveal a long list of mandates that are meaningless because they are costly entrusted to Montreal agencies to strengthen the visibility of the federal government in Quebec.

Race battle

A contract would describe the negligence that reigned. The federal machine found no trace of a report in which Groupaction received $ 550,000. The same company led by Jean Brault already secured another contract, last year, for $ 575,000, essentially a 122-page list of events Ottawa may wish to sponsor. In March 2002, the government abruptly filed the most coveted report with the Commons.

In a few hours, Joël-Denis Bellavance, from The Press, discovered that it was in fact a copy of a previous report; even if the shells were photocopied. Serge Chapleau summed up the scam in a caricature, a parody of an ad: “The Groupaction photocopier: three times more profitable! »


Cartoon by Serge Chapleau published on March 22, 2002

Still moved, after 20 years, a source close to the agencies at the time underlined that the scandal had caused many collateral victims. Close Groupaction, for example, sent 40 unemployed, permanently marked, some in extreme distress.

Concordia political scientist Guy Lachapelle teaches that in order to understand this period, we must also remember the fratricidal war between Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. Chrétien hinted that he would leave before the 2000 election. But he decided to stay in the saddle. This led to a relentless war between the two clans. In the Bloc Québécois, we immediately remember that the embarrassing information about the Auberge Grand-Mère, the “Shawinigate”, came to them from the Martin clan!


Jean Chrétien in the November 2000 election campaign

In his public speeches as in his autobiography political inclination, Jean Chrétien downplayed the importance of a “sponsorship scandal more associated with partisan politics and war of the newspapers than the public interest”. Clearly, according to him, the importance of these wrong steps has been exaggerated. So he insists he would have remained at the helm of government long enough to answer questions in the Commons, if Paul Martin had asked him directly.

Paul Martin will certainly contribute to dramatizing the situation. He will talk about the “dirty money” coming from the contributing companies. He will even do a cross-Canada tour to vent his anger. In his memories, Against all odds, he explains. “Some of my critics said that by showing how disgusted I was with the revelations of the auditor’s report, I helped raise the profile of the case and condemned my party to defeat. Make no mistake, the wrongdoings came first. the Auditor General and then the Gomery commission revealed what was detrimental to the party.His lieutenant, the late Jean Lapierre, was happy to add his stone by maintaining, for example, that the new masters in Ottawa had found “a rotten fish” in the refrigerator of the previous administration.

Political scientist at UQAM, Anne-Marie Gingras observes that this scandal has “huge impact”.

It changed the balance of power between the parties, there was a realignment from that moment. In 2004, Paul Martin only got a minority mandate. After that, the Liberals had no success for ten years.

Anne-Marie Gingras, political scientist at UQAM

“In 2015, along with another generation of politicians, Justin Trudeau was elected,” Ms.ako Gingras.

Elected to the minority in 2006, Stephen Harper feels the need to act. “He passed the law on accountability, we see the arrival of an ethics commissioner, one of the integrity of the public sector in 2007. The Parliamentary Budget Officer was created at the same time. There has been an interest in transparency, which is somewhat ironic if we consider the tendency of Mr. Harper on secrecy, ”observes Ms.ako Gingras. He continues to talk about “sponsorships” in his classes to this day. He confesses that he was “shocked” to see the reception of the students: “Only three years after the scandal, the students looked at me as if I were an extraterrestrial.»

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