Under the Maple Leaf: MacAulay's woes

By MARK BLANCHARD  |  Oct. 18, 2002 at 12:29 PM
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When Canada's solicitor-general didn't show up for his date with the queen this week, the rumor mill kicked into overdrive.

Lawrence MacAulay, the latest Liberal Cabinet minister mired in a cloud of scandal, was on a list of government officials scheduled to meet her majesty at an event staged by the world-famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police musical ride.

But the minister responsible for the RCMP was conspicuously absent. His handlers claimed it was just an error, saying his name was printed by mistake and that he was at a family function.

Perhaps someone, somewhere, thought it was a smart idea for the queen not to rub shoulders with a subject of questionable loyalty?

Wherever MacAulay was, he likely wasn't getting a break from a barrage of opposition criticism and the headlines hyping up the scandal.

MacAulay is being investigated by the government's ethics councilor for a possible conflict of interest, after he awarded a $100,000 contract to a close friend.

But there's more.

MacAulay is under fire for helping his brother in securing almost $15 million worth of government grants for a privately run community college in the five years the minister has been on the job.

MacAulay was reportedly close to being canned before Prime Minister Jean Chretien left for a francophone summit in Beirut. But the minister seems to have won a temporary stay of execution. He is scheduled to meet ethics councilor Howard Wilson on Friday, but his political fate may already be sealed. There's rampant speculation Chretien will, upon his return, ask MacAulay to resign.

But the solicitor-general doesn't believe a word of it.

"It's a trying time," MacAulay admitted in television interview. "Anybody that's been totally evaluated, it's not pleasant.

"You always wonder," he added. "But it gives me comfort knowing in my own heart that all I did was what I felt was right and what the people around me told me was right."

Federal Liberal Party organizers will meet this weekend to figure out when and where they'll have a leadership convention in November 2003. But it won't exactly be a tough job. Organizers expect to name not one city, but two -- as finalists for the convention's location.

The party president says they're only considering three to begin with: Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. So organizers will just have to rule out one city for now, while they bargain with hotels and convention centers in the two remaining cities for deals. Chretien plans to step down as prime minister in February 2004, but Liberals wants to have his replacement chosen well by then.

And finally -- temper, temper. An Ontario Cabinet minister refuses to resign after threatening to fire bureaucrats who support opposition parties. Jim Wilson, the province's minister of northern development, apologized for the outburst this week. Wilson claims his volatile nature doesn't interfere with his responsibilities, but he admits he's got a problem. "I'm a bit of a hothead and people know that," he told reporters. "That's the way God made me."

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