OTTAWA, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien defended his national unity program at an inquiry Tuesday, calling it a tool to fight Quebec separatism.
The inquiry is investigating the $200 million program set up to promote national unity in Quebec. An estimated $80 million went to advertising firms with Liberal Party ties and others, who sometimes failed to deliver quality work, according to a report issued by the auditor general.
Chretien said following the 1995 referendum, which Quebec separatists nearly won, a federal strategy was needed to promote national unity and raise federal visibility in the province, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reports.
"Our approach after the referendum was very clear," he said. "We would ensure that the threat of a new referendum would be removed."
Chretien said the sponsorship program yielded positive results and support for Canada increased in Quebec, but he added: "If unscrupulous people used that program or any other opportunity to line their own pockets ... they should be found out and put in jail."