Brian Mulroney’s reputation took a further blow yesterday with the release of the Oliphant Commission report. He was hoping for a slap on the wrist. Instead he got a whack across the jaw. But there was no knockout.
Everyone already knew the former prime minister had acted inappropriately in accepting cash payments from wheeler-dealer Karlheinz Schreiber. Mulroney has already admitted this and conceded it was a serious error of judgment.
But what we wanted to know, and what we didn’t find out, is why the secret payments were made. Until that mystery is solved — and it likely never will be — this case is unsolved. The extent of Mulroney’s transgression, his degree of culpability, cannot be answered.
Mulroney had testified that he took the cash to lobby international leaders for the sale of light-armoured vehicles on behalf of Schreiber’s clients. But the Oliphant report drove holes through that theory, as it did to some of the other Mulroney testimony on the case.
One of the most devastating parts of the report concerned Mulroney’s statements regarding his relationship with Schreiber in 1996 legal proceedings on a related controversy. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant cast doubt on the integrity of the testimony, and added that Mulroney’s later attempts to justify what he said were “patently absurd.”
Justice Oliphant’s findings on that testimony could be interpreted as an allegation of perjury. The report also found that Mulroney had violated his own government’s code of ethics in his business dealings with Schreiber.
What now? Yesterday’s report will likely be the end of it. No major new revelations on the story are likely to be found. Journalists have been tracking it for two decades. The RCMP investigated the related matter of Airbus for several years. And this commission took its turn and the questions remain.
One of the strange things was that Mulroney himself encouraged Stephen Harper to call this probe. That’s something a guilty man would not readily have done. He likely felt that, as was the case with the Airbus inquiry, he would be vindicated.
Yesterday’s report was by no means vindication. But after a few days of bad headlines, Mulroney will be able to finally move on. He may in fact be guilty of worse transgressions than have been revealed. But to a certain extent, justice has been done.
It’s about reputation. Mulroney cares about reputation as much as anyone else, even more so. For years, his reputation has suffered on account of his Schreiber dealings, serving to diminish his accomplishments as prime minister. This shadow on his legacy is warranted. But the shadow is not the substance.
Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.