Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lyin' Brian: Between greed and goodwill

Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister of Canada from 1984 -- George Orwell's fateful year -- until 1993. During those nine years in office his popularity steadily declined. A decade after he left office, Mulroney reinvented himself as a latter-day paladin of Jewish causes, standing tall on the ramparts of public opinion, fending off the spectre of anti-Semitism that is the by-product of Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians.

In 2003, he delivered speeches and published op-edders under the heading "Israel is the new Jew," which garnered rave reviews in the very Israel-friendly National Post. It was a transparent strategy to varnish and market his image. But in fairness ol' Mulroney always had a soft spot for sundry Jewish causes.

While leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, he had promised old friend and neighbor, Edgar Bronfman, President of the World Jewish Congress, that once elected prime minister he would diligently investigate the allegation that since 1945 several hundred Nazi war criminals, all flying below the radar, had settled into sedate lives in Canada.

In 1987, as PM, Mulroney delivered on his promise, with a controversial retro-active and extra-territorial law that spurred the red-coated Mounties into what to a lot of Canadians seemed like McCarthy-ite witch-hunt for old immigrants with any whiff of the Third Reich about them. In fact, now that 20-odd years have passed, the number of those Nazi war criminals successfully prosecuted in Canadian courts turned out to be a small handful of Nazi-era collaborators; just a few "small fry," as they say.

Today, in what seems like a metaphor for the democratic political scene everywhere, Canada's former PM has since been hauled before a parliamentary ethics committee and Justice Jeffrey Oliphant's commission of inquiry to answer questions about secret cash payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received in hotel meetings in 1993 and 1994 from German arms-dealer Karlheinz Schreiber, an agent and middleman for Thyssen Industries -- Mr Hitler's munitions provider, were any reminders needed.

Meanwhile ...

Herr Schreiber is wanted back in Germany to answer multiple charges of bribery, corruption, fraud, and tax evasion; in Ottawa, the capital, Canadian Justice Department officials are set to give him the heave-ho any day.

Last May, Mulroney spent several days thrashing about desperately on the witness stand in a bid to salvage what little remains his badly tarnished reputation and prime ministerial legacy. It didn't look good, it didn't look good at all.

And Mulroney did a lousy job explaining why h'd accepted a few hundred thousand dollars in cash-stuffed envelopes, put them away in a safe at his Westmount mansion in Montreal, then waited six years to declare the cash as income to tax auditors, and only after details became public.

Nowadays a rank smell of sleaze clings to the man; his personality is radioactive. I dare say, he shouldn't expect an invitation to deliver the keynote address at any B'nai Brith gatherings any time soon.

Mulroney appears to have earned the moniker he acquired during his decade in Canadian politics -- Lyin' Brian.

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