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This is a golden opportunity to root out federal corruption Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 11 October 2004

John McCallum, federal minister for taxation and Canada Post, made an announcement last week in the House of Commons.

He said the Canada Revenue Agency (formerly Revenue Canada) will audit the tax benefits paid to former Canada Post president Andre Ouellet.

Question. Can we believe him?

Andre Ouellet switched careers in 1996 from MP to Canada Post chairman. To ease his transition, the chairman's pay was raised from $20,000 a year to $160,000. In addition Ouellet billed the corporation an unheard-of $200,000 a year in travel and entertainment expenses, without producing any documented proof the claims were valid.

By a special decision of cabinet in 1999, Ouellet was promoted to president and awarded a salary of $400,000, the highest in the federal service. His travel and expense claims rose to an even more astonishing $300,000 a year.

Ouellet did other questionable things, such as involving himself in the sponsorship scandal, in which Ottawa spent $100 million for nothing. He was suspended (with pay) in February, and retired in August to a modest government pension of $116,000 a year.

Happy to see him go, Minister McCallum said the $2 million Ouellet received for unverified expense claims was not worth pursuing.

Thirteen thousand outraged Canadians have since e-mailed McCallum through the Web site of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy (of which I am chairman) telling McCallum it IS worth pursuing. As everyone knows, except apparently Andre Ouellet, if a business expense payment is not documented, the CRA is supposed to treat it as personal income, subject to tax.

On Wednesday, in reply to Conservative MP Brian Pallister, McCallum said that the CRA will audit the "more than $1.4 million" Ouellet was paid for expenses as president.

A good start, if it actually happens. But what about the other $600,000 he claimed as chairman?

And why did Canada Post's directors allow him to do this for eight years? Why did the taxman not catch an expense claim large enough to effectively double Ouellet's income? If he now fails to document his claims, will he be prosecuted for tax evasion?

And it shouldn't stop with Andre Ouellet.

Who else in Canada Post--or in the whole federal government, for that matter--gets paid expenses on his own mere say-so? (Ouellet called this the "honor system.")

With the Liberals in a minority, for the first time the government does not control the Public Accounts Committee. With an Opposition majority, it can at last flush a lot of rats out of a lot of woodpiles.

As well, a public inquiry into the sponsorship scandal being held by Judge John Gomery seems to be closing in very quickly on Jean Chretien and his cabinet cronies.

We've heard of little things like the 300 golf balls purchased with $1,200 in sponsorship money, each initialed "JC." We've also heard of big things, like the fact that Chretien was warned by the head of the civil service in 1997 that by directing the millions of dollars in funding, Chretien was making himself responsible.

Andre Ouellet is just the start. There's plenty more to come.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
 
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.





 
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