Probe of CLS owner
A story dated February 19 on Yahoo's news page reports that Canada's four opposition parties cast political differences aside on Thursday to issue a joint call for an ethics investigation of Finance Minister Paul Martin.
The parties accused the Liberal minister of an apparent conflict of interest because of a proposed bill which would give tax incentives to foreign shipping firms moving their operations to Canada.
Martin, widely respected internationally and in the Canadian business community for successfully cutting the country's chronic budget deficits, is a multi-millionaire shipowner with extensive foreign holdings. He has put them under ``blind management'' and disclosed all his assets.
The four parties, ranging from socialist to right-wing to Quebec separatist, asked for the establishment of a subcommittee of the Finance Committee to probe the whole matter. They have been stonewalled by the ruling Liberals.
``The finance minister has put himself in a very bad position, a conflict of interest, by sponsoring (bill) C-28, which would allow for major tax exemptions for shipping companies,'' the opposition Bloc Quebecois member Odina Desrochers told Parliament.
Martin, who says he fell in love with ships when he was 10, owns the Montreal-based Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) and a
number of affiliated shipping companies based in Liberia, Barbados and elsewhere. Many of his ships are foreign-flagged.
His office on Thursday refused official comment, except to label the whole affair as theatrics ahead of the presentation of the federal budget to Parliament on Tuesday.
The affair has dominated the daily Question Period in the House of Commons for the past couple of days.
Under a barrage of questions on Thursday Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien frequently jumped to his feet to defend Martin,
who is widely seen as his possible successor if the Liberals are re-elected for a third term.
``The minister of finance is a man of honesty and integrity and competence and he will deliver his budget next Tuesday,'' Chretien told the House of Commons.
Martin was absent from Parliament at the time.
``The ethics commissioner clearly said that there was no conflict of interest,'' Chretien said. ``Everyone knows that the family of the minister of finance owns ships. There's nothing hidden. They are just trying to destroy the minister of finance because he is hurting the opposition, because he brings in good budgets and the finances of the country are so good.''
Ethics Counsellor Howard Wilson, who was appointed by Chretien to police ethics in the federal government, said Martin had been careful to separate himself from any drafting of bill C-28's maritime provisions and any discussions about the legislation.
``I can be clear,'' Wilson said on Wednesday when called to testify to the Finance Committee. ``There is no substance to the
allegations. Mr. Martin has not been in a conflict of interest.''
At a news conference, the opposition parties said they were dissatisfied with Wilson's remarks and that too many questions remain unanswered about whether Martin's companies could profit from the changes proposed in bill C-28.
``We're going on what we think is a prudent and efficient way of doing this,'' said left-wing New Democratic Party member Nelson Riis.
He added that it was essential to begin the investigation immediately ``so we don't go into the budget tabling on Tuesday with a cloud hanging over the integrity of the process as well as the integrity of the minister of finance.''
Reported by: James Neumiller