Search for future Governor General raises ghosts of Canada’s scandalous past

Former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and outgoing Governor General David Johnston (Canada 2020/Flickr cc licence)
Former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and outgoing Governor General David Johnston (Canada 2020/Flickr cc licence)

This is not a new story – it goes back to 2008.

In that year, the quintessential Toronto, true blue lawyer, David Johnston, received a call asking if he would write the terms of reference for a public inquiry.

Prime Minister Harper had, with considerable reluctance, committed himself to an investigation into allegations that his Conservative predecessor, Brian Mulroney, had taken illegal payments from the German lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber and the investigation threatened to turn into a media circus. Johnston, the careful lawyer and quiet compromiser, agreed to define the inquiry’s parameters: what questions should be asked, and which issues were out of bounds?

The undisputed facts

In 2010, Rick Salutin wrote this in the Globe and Mail, a version the facts no one contradicts:

[quote]In 1997, former prime minister Brian Mulroney received $2.1-million from the federal government over a case in which he’d been mentioned in leaked RCMP documents as a suspect in a corruption matter. He denied under oath having much to do with a bagman and scamp named Karlheinz Schreiber. But it later emerged that he’d taken large amounts of cash from him that he kept secret. Under the pressures of minority government, more details surfaced until Prime Minister Stephen Harper reluctantly agreed to a public inquiry. But, crucially, he called on David Johnston to define its limits.

He set them narrowly, excluding any examination of the role of Airbus, a huge European company Karlheinz Schreiber acted for, and which got a $1.8-billion order from Air Canada while it was still a public firm in the Mulroney years. Airbus gave Karlheinz Schreiber more than $20-million of the Canadian funds it received to distribute as he saw fit among people who had made the deal happen. The real question for the inquiry was: What did Brian Mulroney get the cash for, and was it connected to Airbus? The inquiry was prevented from asking because, said David Johnston, that was “well-tilled ground.” But it wasn’t really. The RCMP hadn’t been able to make Airbus officials testify, for instance; an inquiry could. And when striking new evidence emerged from a Mulroney crony at the inquiry, it wasn’t pursued due to the narrow terms. [Emphasis mine – RM][/quote]

(Incidentally, Johnston received $1400 per day to do this report and when Harper saw Johnston’s work, he said, according to his biographer, John Ibbitson: “Whatever we paid him for this, it wasn’t enough.”)

Harper has never denied making that remark showing that, if nothing else, he was more honest than Mulroney – though that is damning with very faint praise indeed.

Well-tilled ground

Andrew Coyne, after the Salutin article, came unconvincingly to Johnston’s defence but agreed that these were the facts:

[quote]It’s true that it was Johnston, as adviser to the Prime Minister on the terms of reference for the Oliphant inquiry, who recommended against including the Airbus scandal in its mandate, a decision that looks all the more baffling in light of the judge’s findings: not only that Brian Mulroney took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, shortly after leaving office, from the very man from whom he was accused of taking bribes while in office, but that he lied about it, up to and including his appearance before the inquiry. Regardless of whether Mulroney was personally involved, the circumstances surrounding the Airbus deal are so suspicious that, even 22 years later, they cry out for an inquiry — not in spite of the passage of time but because of it. Johnston’s reasoning, that Airbus, having once been the subject of an RCMP investigation, was “well-tilled ground,” is simply unsupported by the facts: the RCMP had only just begun their investigation when it was shut down by the leaking of the infamous “Swiss letter,” a calamity from which it never recovered. [Emphasis added -RM] [/quote]

Why do I raise this now, nearly 6 years after the events?

Because the facts are more important now than they ever were. And there are many. And they are a serious blot on the national escutcheon.

Cleaning House

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked Canadians for their views on who should replace Mr. Johnston when he retires. It’s a damned sight more important that he concentrate on the process by which this important part of the constitution is appointed. We’ve been fortunate that major constitutional problems have not emerged from our ongoing slap-happy, politically inspired appointments.

I look at the case of Mike Duffy, swamped with 31 charges, all relating to rank political goings-on in a House of Parliament which has no other noticeable purpose. The trial lasted 62 days – not including all of the highly stressful days the court wasn’t sitting – only to have all charges thrown out contemptuously by the trial judge.

Then I see Brian Mulroney, treated and consulted with as if he were an honoured former head of government, invited to all manner of Official Functions, acting as if he had always served his country with the utmost integrity. ‘Lyin’ Brian, as he is aptly called, makes Richard Nixon look like a choirboy in comparison yet spends his days basking in flattery and honour, always looking for more.

Tough on crime

I then consider the attitude of the “hang ’em high” Conservative Party towards crime by the rabble – the Supreme Court of Canada will be busy for years tossing out their flint-hearted laws. While those sanctimonious bastards would jail the poor who steal bread, they compromised the office of Queen’s Representative in order to save a crook like Mulroney from even a trial – a man who cheated the public of more than $2 million with a phoney libel claim, to say nothing of taking $300,000 in a paper bag from Schreiber, another crook. Apart from all else, how is it possible to libel a man like that?

The appearance of propriety

Governor-General David Johnston visits Victoria (Province of BC/Flickr)
Governor-General David Johnston visits Victoria (Province of BC/Flickr)

I consider the process for selecting the Governor-General. I don’t say that Mr. Johnston made his recommendations to emasculate the Mulroney hearing in exchange for the Governor Generalship. There’s a little matter of absence of proof here. The problem is, it sure as hell looks that way to a lot of people and you can’t blame them for seeing it that way. It just mustn’t appear as if the Governor-Generalship might have been a pay-off but that thought crossed a lot of minds.

David Johnston is a skilled, successful lawyer, an academic, a man everyone considered to be highly qualified -yet, somehow, he expected people to accept the question as to whether or not Mulroney got a payoff from Karlheinz Schreiber as a “well-tilled field”.  It’s hard to believe – no it is impossible to believe that Mr. Johnston really thought that and my theory is that he’s so wired into the eastern Canadian establishment, he couldn’t bring himself to upset the apple cart when, with the stroke of a pen, he could put his friends out of their misery.

Three possibilities

There are really only three possibilities – that there was a deal; that, contrary to all the evidence, Mr. Johnston is as dumb as a sackful of hammers; or that he acted like all Central Canadian establishment people, heirs to the Family Compact tradition, and put the stability of society as he knew it ahead of the need to bring one of his own to justice.  Any one of these possibilities is as good a reason as any to find a better way to select the Governor-General.

Mr. Johnston may not have had a deal in mind but former Prime Minister Stephen Harper certainly did as demonstrated by his remarks about how well the party was rewarded for the amount of money Mr. Johnston received. If you let that sink in a bit, the realization strikes you that the corruption is so widespread and so endemic to the governing classes that those involved don’t even think about it anymore.

Where was the media?

Most of all, however, this sordid story tells us something about us as Canadians and how little we demand of those who tell us the news.

This should have been a major scandal from the get-go and explored thoroughly by all of media to the fullest.

Instead, there was the Salutin story in the Globe and Mail (a 20 year employee, he was fired shortly after); a couple of passive accounts in other papers and the apologia by Coyne in Maclean’s magazine. For the little value it was, I wrote the story here in stark terms, had a hell of a time getting it published (not by this paper) and, of course, it wasn’t read where important people live. 

Rafe: How does Oil-boosting Postmedia boss get into news Hall of Fame?
Paul Godfrey (Photo: Samja Frkovic/Flickr – Victoria Rose)

Perhaps it goes too far to say we get the Media we deserve but we care so little when the largest newspaper chain, in Canada, Postmedia has a written mutual masturbation agreement with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers; it scarcely raises an eyebrow that the Vancouver Province is a partner of Resource Works, no more than shills for Woodfibre LNG; we put up with newspapers that endorse the Harper government almost to a paper – not because they could demonstrate any good in the man, but because those were the boss’s orders; and we don’t seem to care when Postmedia, going broke as fast as it can, has a CEO who presides over the firing of hundreds of employees while pocketing nearly $2 million himself in bonuses.

Is it any bloody wonder that the authorities believe they can charge Mike Duffy with 31 crimes when nobody in the country takes the justice system seriously enough to complain at its excesses? And the Crown Counsel certainly don’t have to worry about catching hell in the media. Thank God, they still run the risk of catching it from the bench.

The fix is in

No, the Johnston/Harper/Mulroney extravaganza was just a passing incident in the Canadian political panorama and not to be taken seriously by anybody. At least that’s how the media treated it. Yet the deal was fixed for the former prime minister just as it was for the disgraced Gordon Campbell. Both men were amply rewarded by the country for their trouble, in keeping with our long tradition of rewarding well-fixed lawbreakers.

The man who fixed it so neatly was given the number one cushy job in the country, the shenanigans of the prime minister of the day were rewarded by media endorsement for re-election, the disgraced ex-prime minister spends his time in cutaway coats and striped trousers as an honoured guest at official functions, the public of Canada is stuck with a bill for millions of dollars, and the Real Establishment hears not a nasty word from our tame media, which, I might add, is owned by this same Ontario three-piece suit mob who make and break laws as it suits them.

But, it’s a non-story. Two prime ministers, a governor-general and a crook on the run, plus a paper bag full of cash, and it’s of no interest to Canadians. Right!

While all this merriness rolls on, Justin asks Canadians to consider carefully who should be our next G-G, even without knowing whom he owes favours to.

Canadians are so busy telling ourselves what a wonderful country they have they never pause to consider that conduct that’s part and parcel of our daily political and economic life is considered shameful in most civilized places.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

19 thoughts on “Search for future Governor General raises ghosts of Canada’s scandalous past

  1. Rafe, I salute you, sir, on an exemplary piece of fearless journalism. Very well done… it’s always been a mystery why the possible bribe-taking by a Prime Minister hs been a second string news story. You have drawn out well some of how the story was ‘managed’. But it rather makes me wonder why Stephen Harper remains an MP… is he rich or something? Surely as long as he is in Parliament, he can’t take up all those lucrative corporate directorships and remuneration which are clearly waiting for him. What is the seemly period for a former PM to stay away from the reward which must await?

  2. To nonconfidence vote
    I am certainly not unmindful of our problems in British Columbia many of which I’ve been fighting for many years, not the least of which is the battle against our tame and captive media. At least they’re our issues and we can do something about them. But what do we do about something as atrocious is the situation I reported on here? White a letter to the editor of the Toronto Globe and Mail? Send a note to our cringing, obsequious MP? Phone our favourite Senator? The fact is we can do nothing.
    In a lifetime that has now reached antiquity, I’ve noticed with monotonous regularity that anytime it is propose that BC forests be ravaged, our rivers put in danger, our salmon destroyed, our inlets desecrated, and so on it’s always in the “national interest”. At this moment, it is in the national interest to run pipelines full of poison across our pristine environment so that contrary to our international agreements we can dispatch fossil fuel’s to countries that just can’t burn them fast enough and at the same time revive the Tar Sands, the biggest polluter in the world.
    One is not supposed to be so unCanadian, of course, to observe that the real “national interest” is that which is in the best interest of Ottawa and Bay Street. I find it really amusing to watch Alberta suddenly become a great believer in the national interest after the way they treated “have-not” provinces during the oil boom.
    For me this Governor General crap is just the last straw. Not a peep out of any of the smug central Canadian media. Let the BC Liberal party stuff some extra lolly into Christy’s handbag and it’s a headline story in the Globe and Mail. You would spend a lifetime combing the Toronto Globe and Mail and not get full the story of Governor General Johnston and Prime Minister Harper covering up for Brian Mulroney. God knows I carry no brief for Christy Clark but I’m sick to death of an Central Canada establishment and its tame media that is not only self-centred in every respect and makes all the rules to suit themselves, calls those who don’t like that bad Canadians, covers up its evil deeds and effectively censors all criticism,

    1. Fair enough.

      The “central Canada” media bias is nothing new. I originally come from the East coast of Canada and “Toronto bashing” is a passion.
      It isnt just Western Canada that feels ignored.

      I wonder if the US Republican love affair with Donald Trump is a precursor to Canadian politics in a decade or so.
      All we need is an obnoxious billionaire that actually wants to change things because the way the political system is going…….
      Obscene money from Lobbying, media controlled lickspittles, intimidated Crown Prosecutors, Judicial waffling, ……..aint workin for Joe Average Taxpayer.

      The staus quo will implode.

      No one I talk to respects any politician.
      No one I talk to believes what is reported in the media.
      No one I talk to respects the judicial system or their toothless sentencing.
      No one I talk to thinks they can change anything.

      Not a great way to foster a continuing democracy in an ever evolving, complicated world with a demoralized, frustrated, shrinking “middle” class.

      ….and if Trump is refused the Republican nomination…….the implosion may come sooner than we expect…….

      Multiply angry Canadian voters by 10 to get the idea of the levels of frustration south of the 49th parallel………

      P.S. I always enjoy reading your point of view . Keep up the excellent work.

  3. I propose Le Dauphin declare ME to be GG. I have absolutely minimal education, precious few job skills, and I am in no way qualified to do the job of GG. I will quite gladly take anybody’s money, in a paper bag or in a pillow case, I don’t care.

    We are SO picky about who may and who may not immigrate. Conrad Black renounced his Canadian citizenship so he could become Lord Something of Somewhere. He was arrested, tried, found guilty, and imprisoned in the USA. When he got out of the slammer he sashayed across the border, went back to Toronto-the-Good, and his luxury digs. And yet, supposedly, convicted felons are not allowed to immigrate or even to visit.

    So how did the Big Bloviator not only get back in, but be allowed to stay?
    Gee, maybe he’s chummy with the GG?

  4. Louise Arbour, Sheila Fraser. David Johnson was such a sucky weasel and is now trying to redeem himself.

  5. This exemplifies why I have consistently said, written and meant that I’m a British Columbian first and a Canadian second.

    Who needs this crap jammed at them by the Eastern Establisment? Why should I care about their version of Canada?

    They’re not the same as us and I pray to God it stays that way!

    1. While I agree with you about Canadian politics I wouldnt be too smug about being a British Columbian 1st.
      The Crown here danced right up to the line in the BC Rail case and then scurried away.
      Non disclosure settlements to Basi and Virk to the tune of $6 million dollars ( completely illegal under the govts own legislation).
      And the press said as little as possible.
      Speaking of the press.
      I noticed Vaughn Palmer was asked absolutley NOTHING on last nights 6pm Global “News” about Christy Clarks pocketing of $50,000k per annum from the “private meetings” she has with anonymous donars….
      What did Vaughn answer questions about ? Some inane non issue totally undeserving of 1 second of air time.
      Delay, deny, ignore…..seems to be the mantra of todays politicians even IF the press actually had the cojones to ask real questions…..
      The Presstitutes are alive and thriving in BC with million dollar mortgages to pay……The Globe and mail broke THAT story.
      It seems we are better served here by retired journalists with their own blogs and zero mortgages. ie Rafe Mair, Harvey Oberfeld, etc……
      No surprise there.
      Does anyone read the Sun or Province anymore or do they just pick it up at the office for the sodoku and the crossword puzzle?

  6. Canada is dead, it is no more, it has deceased, it is a non country.

    We are run by gangsters, elected in soviet style show-case elections and those who raise the most money, get elected and get to feed at the public trough.

    We have no 5th estate; we have no police and the rule of law is only for the poor masses who struggle daily to put bread on the table.

    We have been taken over completely by the gangster class, that there is no way back. We are facing oblivion. bribed by our own tax money to look away.

    We have no heroes; we have no leaders, we have lost.

Comments are closed.