Wayne and Brian: Brian Mulroney should take a lesson from Wayne Gretzky. When accused without evidence of involvement in illegal sports gambling, Wayne faced the charge, denied it, and took questions. He did so in the U.S., Canada and Turin, then said he’d say no more because the focus ought to be on his team. It was a display of dignity and responsibility, and he’d never even been elected PM. He took it on himself.

In 1995, when the RCMP suggested the ex-PM might be involved in bribery, he cried victim and sued. The government backed off, apologized and paid his costs. It has since emerged that, after leaving office, he was handed $300,000 in cash in hotels by the same fixer, Karlheinz Schreiber, who allegedly distributed bribes, from the same stash. Mr. Mulroney had testified he met Mr. Schreiber twice for coffee at a hotel and “had never had any dealings with him.” There were a few limp efforts by his mouthpieces to explain this bizarre scenario.

In a new revelation on the fifth estate last month, the fixer said the ex-PM did exactly nothing for the money. Mr. Mulroney has still offered no explanations. Poor William Kaplan, who wrote a book supporting him, had to write a second one saying he’d been duped.

The Globe and Mail and just about every other paper have editorialized that Canadians are due an explanation — and seem willing to let it drop. My only justification for writing this now is to play my small part in not having it go away. It’s amazing that it could. The man was prime minister. He took the country into the fateful free-trade deal. He still manoeuvres at high levels in national politics.

The piddling sponsorship scandal was beaten to a pulp by the media. Sheila Copps promised in 1993 to resign if the new Liberal government didn’t abolish the GST. It didn’t, and The Globe archly reran the same editorial headed “Resign” till she did and was re-elected. I’d say the stakes are far higher here. I don’t really see how Brian Mulroney can walk down a street without journalists and citizens yelling, Explain! Explain!

In praise of Charlie Harnick: The questions of accountability in the Mike Harris years in Ontario are of a weightier sort. They aren’t about tacky cash payouts; they largely concern death itself: seven people by tainted water in Walkerton in 2000; and native protester Dudley George by a police bullet during an unarmed march at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995.

Just this week, the OPP officer convicted of manslaughter in the George death was killed in a highway accident, shortly before he was going to testify at an inquiry called by a new provincial government. In that investigation, one central issue is whether Mr. Harris strongly pressed provincial police to get protesters out of the park. Mr. Harris has always denied it and did so again at the inquiry last month.

But, in December, his attorney-general, Charlie Harnick, testified he heard the premier say at a meeting with police officials present: “I want the fucking Indians out of the park.” It was a remarkable moment from a politician who seemed quite ordinary during his years in office.

I call him Charlie because that’s how I knew him as my camper one summer many decades ago. He was small and cute with a blond brush cut people couldn’t help touching. He had a hoarse voice everyone mimicked, saying Chaarlie Haarnick. He was a camp character. Not too bright, no one thought he’d go far, probably peaked at 13.

Yet, you should judge people not by what they achieve, but on what they do compared to what you’d have expected. By that, I don’t mean making cabinet; I mean telling the truth as he saw it, when it’s hard to see what good it could have done him. He even admits lying in the legislature about the same alleged Harris outburst nine years before (showing he’s still Charlie; most politicians know you can evade those questions without actually lying). Maybe it just preyed on his conscience since then. He says he agonized.

Of course Mike Harris disputes it, and the commissioner will have to make his own finding. But Charlie did the right thing as he saw it, a bit late, and I want to honour him, belatedly myself, for that.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.