Calgary Sun

March 25, 2001

Lies, lies and yet more lies

Integrity and honesty are rare attributes in Parliament these days

By LICIA CORBELLA -- Calgary Sun

The ninth commandment in the Bible is: "Thou shalt not lie."

Somebody forgot to teach that to many of our Parliamentarians.

This past week has been rife with examples in Canadian politics of the obvious lack of veracity by many of our Parliamentarians and regular citizens and the grief that such lies cause.

On Tuesday, Edmonton Alliance MP Rahim Jaffer apologized to other Members of Parliament for being caught in a lie.

"To my fellow MPs, I offer my regret for not living up to their standard of integrity," said a tearful Jaffer.

The sad irony of that statement is that Jaffer DID in fact live up to "their standards of integrity." That's the problem.

Integrity and honesty are rare attributes in Parliament and will become much rarer now that Preston Manning plans to leave at the end of the year.

Parliament is supposed to be the pinnacle of Canadian society -- the loftiest of spots -- and as such, the conduct there tends to drift downward and filters through the rest of our institutions, poisoning them.

To recap the Jaffer gaffe, last week his executive assistant Matthew Johnston impersonated Jaffer on a national radio talk show.

Jaffer said that Johnston, who has since resigned, booked him to be a guest last Saturday on the Vancouver radio talk show Warren on the Weekend.

But when Johnston allegedly couldn't reach Jaffer to notify him of the commitment, Johnston posed as Jaffer and did the nationally-syndicated interview in his place.

After Johnston was confronted, he insisted he was the MP. Jaffer then tried to cover up Johnston's deceit by lying himself.

It seems that when many politicians are caught in a tough spot or when it will benefit them, they turn to lying as their first option.

But that's not all that took place this week.

On Wednesday, junior Liberal minister Hedy Fry -- who is not exactly known for being circumspect -- told the House in a speech on anti-racism day that: "We do not have to go too far (to find examples of racism.)

"We can just go to British Columbia in Prince George where crosses are being burned on lawns as we speak," said Fry, secretary of state responsible for multiculturalism.

Well, as it turns out, not only were crosses not being burned as she spoke, but they hadn't been burned "recently" as she said later when she amended her statement. In fact, according to the police, the mayor, aldermen and citizens of Prince George, crosses have NEVER been burned in Prince George -- ever. In fact, there are no recorded incidents in all of B.C. -- if not Canada.

But this week is not unique. Let us revisit other doozies delivered by the esteemed members of the House.

Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, currently being investigated for possible unethical behaviour, started his prime ministership with whopper after whopper.

He recently denied ever calling the head of a bank seeking a loan for a constituent with business ties to him. Later he admitted it.

After promising throughout the 1992 election campaign that he would "kill," "eliminate," and "abolish" the GST, he changed his tune once in office and said, in essence, that we shouldn't believe what he says, we should have read the small print contained in the Liberal Red Book of promises.

He vowed to tear up the Free Trade Agreement if he became PM. Instead he signed it virtually unchanged just a few weeks after being sworn in.

He promised to reform the senate and once in power he reneged.

He even has trouble telling the truth to school children.

While speaking to Manitoba high school students in 1996, Chretien said that he occasionally meets with a homeless man in Ottawa for friendly chats.

In reality, the homeless man was a figment of Chretien's imagination passed off as fact.

As it turns out, Chretien's recollection of what he said is largely imaginary as well.

Here is exactly what the PM told the school children in front of rolling television cameras:

"There is one place I go to in oOttawa regularly and every day there is a man who is, unfortunately and obviously, sick. We just sit with a chair at the corner of the street," Chretien said.

And after being questioned the next day, this is what he said: "I see. I said, I saw. I said yesterday that I see a person in the street sometime when I'm travelling in the city. I said I see a man in Ottawa. I didn't say I talked to him."

Jaffer has primarily hurt himself with his lie. Fry, has primarily hurt the city of Prince George with the untruths she spoke.

On Wednesday, we learned at an inquiry into the wrongful murder conviction of Thomas Sophonow, that he spent four years in jail largely because a man named John Doerksen lied at his three murder trials.

Doerksen may have spent too much time watching the Parliamentary channel.

Yeah, that's it. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Licia Corbella, editor of the Calgary Sun, can be reached at 403-250-4129 or by e-mail at Her columns appear Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
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Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.