Thursday, March 8, 2007

Dion's legal battle ... (what timing) ...

Sponsorship fallout: Dion suing Duceppe
Reveal bank records, suit asks Bloc Leader

BILL CURRY globeandmal March 8

Lawyers representing Stéphane Dion are demanding to see the bank records of Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe as part of a $400,000 lawsuit Mr. Dion launched before he became Liberal Party Leader in December.

Mr. Dion's lawyers want the personal information to bolster their argument that Mr. Duceppe can afford to pay for the damage they allege was done by a Bloc pamphlet on the sponsorship scandal.

The French pamphlet circulated by Bloc MPs in the fall of 2005, titled La route de l'argent, showed arrows pointing to Mr. Dion and other Liberal politicians. Mr. Dion said the Gomery commission absolved him of any links to the scandal, yet the pamphlet falsely says he benefited financially.

Mr. Dion filed the suit in December of 2005 but it has not attracted public attention until this week. It's unclear whether it will have an impact on the stability of the current minority Parliament.

Though the discussions are rarely publicized, party leaders are regularly in contact with each other through one-on-one meetings and phone conversations. The meetings can focus on mundane matters such as party positions on coming legislation as well as more high-stakes issues such as whether to topple the government.

Mr. Dion said he intends to follow through with the suit to defend his reputation and does not expect it will affect his professional relationship with Mr. Duceppe.

"I'm a professional," he said. "There's a big difference between what I need to do for the Canadian people in the Parliament and the necessity for me to always defend my honesty and my integrity when it is unfairly attacked."

A spokesman for Mr. Duceppe said the Bloc Leader would not comment on the issue because it is still before the courts.

According to court records, the Bloc maintains the pamphlet is legitimate political comment allowed as part of free speech.

The records show Mr. Dion's lawyer, Claude Laporte, is demanding that "Mr. Duceppe produce his 2005 insurance contracts, his financial state of affairs for 2005-2006, his tax returns, his instructions for automatic bank deposits and the financial state of affairs of the Bloc Québécois for the past three years."

Mr. Laporte told the Montreal newspaper La Presse this week that the next court date likely won't be until 2008. He also said Mr. Dion and Mr. Duceppe may have to appear.

A recently published book outlines just how key the behind-the-scenes meetings between party leaders can be during a minority Parliament. Jamey Heath, author of Dead Centre, has written about the pivotal meetings between leaders during the 2004-2006 minority Parliament, when he was a senior adviser to NDP Leader Jack Layton.

Mr. Heath said Mr. Dion's legal battle with Mr. Duceppe may hurt the three opposition parties' chances of finding common ground on issues such as the environment.