[Toronto] Calling Canada's sponsorship program a "depressing story of greed, venality and misconduct," Justice John Gomery last week issued the first of two reports on the scandal that involved overspending, kickbacks and overbilling by Quebec-based ad agencies. In the report, Mr. Gomery found that former Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his closest advisors were largely responsible due to lack of management oversight, and current Prime Minister Paul Martin was exonerated of any misconduct because he didn't know about the program that was "shrouded in a veil of secrecy." Also, Mr. Chretien's friend Jacques Corriveau was the central figure in an elaborate kickback scheme; and others implicated included civil servant Chuck Guite, who used the program to reward friends and ad agencies linked to the ruling Liberal Party, and former government Minister Alfonso Gagliano, under whom the program took place.
The sponsorship program started in 1995 to give the federal government visibility in separatist-minded Quebec. Mr. Gomery said that between 1996 and 2002, $282 million was spent on the program with 44% of it going mainly to Quebec ad agencies that overbilled outrageously. In response, Prime Minister Martin immediately announced that the Liberal Party would reimburse $968,000, and kicked ten prominent implicated Liberals out of the party. He also said more civil suits would be filed and that the government will go after $48.4 million that is still missing. A copy of the report was given to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A second Gomery report, including recommendations on how to manage government programs and avoid future problems, is due in February 2006.