30 June 2006


Not surprisingly a lawyer representing one of the five people named thus far in the House of Assembly spending scandal has taken issue with the way Auditor General John Noseworthy has been conducting his business. Vernon French is the lawyer representing Jim Walsh, a former Liberal member of the House and a former cabinet minister.
French and Walsh met Noseworthy on Tuesday, although French said Noseworthy would not allow him to examine records that he has collected.

"The AG refused to provide copies of the requested information and, in fact, refused to permit me to look at any of the documentation in his possession," French said.
One of the most obvious ways to mount a defence here is to attack the credibility of the accuser.

Frankly, Noseworthy has given plenty of ammunition with his claims and statements. Bear in mind that nothing has been presented publicly thus far other than evidence that something occurred. One possible explanation of what that something is - criminal activity, for example - has been largely implied by Noseworthy in the absence of corroborating evidence.

Take for example his comment that he couldn't find any evidence that the pins, fridge magnets and rings had been purchased. Amazingly rings started popping up within seconds of the news story hitting the radio and television. The next evening, television news could show coasters and other items covered by the expenditures.

Mr. Noseworthy's comment suggested fraud.

By the next day, any such implication had been severely damaged. It looked like - and may well be that - Mr. Noseworthy and his team simply did not ask for or go looking for the items in question.

In the same way, Noseworthy has called on police to investigate constituency allowances from 1989 to the present. He says that he has indications of misspending before his audit period but gives absolutely no indication of what indications he has.

The year 1989 is a long way from his constituency accounts audit that went back nor further than 2000. On another day, Noseworthy acknowledged that one of the key checks in a good system of checks and balances existed prior to 2000. That system has not been replaced to this day, apparently, despite claims by the current administration that everything at the House of Assembly is now fine. So on what basis is AG Noseworthy basing his claims? Hunches? Apparently so.

Let's be clear though: Noseworthy has uncovered something. It could be criminal activity. It could also be overspending on an expense account, which is not a criminal matter. It could be violation of conflict of interest rules and the Public Tender Act. It is serious but by no means as serious as accusing people of acting in collusion for a criminal purpose.

Let's also be clear that being involved in a matter such as this is heady stuff. It isn't every day that someone has such praise-filled coverage in which one is described as smart and meticulous and is given credit for "bringing down" this one or that one in a manner reminiscent of Eliot Ness. Gaggles of reporters hang on Noseworthy's every word. It would turn any but the most strong head.

However, the conduct of a proper investigation sometimes must take place with very little being said publicly save that an investigation is underway. There are many reasons for doing so, not the least of which is ensuring that any court proceedings cannot be compromised by inappropriate publicity.

It is heady stuff to run about shouting "J'accuse". But if the police investigation does not support the initial claims or if a lawyer can point to an investigation starting from a false premise, we might find ourselves left with a scandal of tremendous proportions and no one held accountable for anything because of someone going bald-headed at it.

Perhaps it would be best if the Auditor General exercised considerably greater restraint in his public comments from here forward. There will be plenty of time for accusations backed by evidence from people whose expertise is the Criminal Code of Canada.