On the Hill – Move Over, Mr. Heep

?Oh, no! I’m a very ?umble person,? says Dickens’s Uriah Heep, that writhing, obsequious character in David Copperfield.

And one might be forgiven, with all the wiggling and evading going on at the Oliphant inquiry these days, for thinking that Uriah Heep himself had taken the stand.

But no. Instead of Uriah’s memorable brand of flattery, we’ve been greeted instead by the self-righteous gaze of former prime minister Brian Mulroney. In spite of the questions being levelled, you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of self-reproach here.

Indeed, the story being sold (although not very successfully) is that Mr. Mulroney has been the victim of circumstance, buffeted by forces beyond his control. The basics are this: between 1993 and 1994, Mulroney accepted three separate envelopes of cash from a lobbyist named Karlheinz Schreiber. The total was $225,000 or $300,000, depending on who you believe. Mulroney claims the cash was a retainer to promote light-armoured vehicles to international buyers.

Not so, says Schreiber: Mulroney took the cash in return for lobbying domestically, to promote a German company that wanted to build a light-armoured vehicle plant in Canada and win ?a contract to sell military vehicles to the Canadian government.? In essence, a kickback for manipulating government contracts.

When presented on three separate occasions with the clearly dodgy prospect of doing business by meeting in hotel rooms and taking wads of cash in envelopes (a fact he later urged the Globe and Mail not to publish), it seems that Mr. Mulroney was merely being cooperative. That was simply how Mr. Schreiber did business. No fault of Mr. Mulroney?s.

And when Mulroney was questioned in 1996 about his involvement in the Airbus scandal, it wasn’t his fault that, in sworn testimony, he didn’t reveal those envelopes of cash he took from Schreiber. It was all very simple, really: the lawyers neglected to ask him.

And even when Mulroney finally did decide that, just maybe, he should come clean and declare that extra quarter of a million in income, it certainly wasn’t his fault that his tax lawyers managed to finesse things so that he only had to pay taxes on half of it.

Even though he’d personally taken the money, and probably had a fairly good grasp of the obligation of paying taxes on it, he had ?no involvement? in any of the arrangements.

?It had really nothing to do with me, if I may,? this lawyer and former PM said. ?I had no involvement in this whatsoever. I understand my name was not even mentioned in any circumstances. This was an anonymous taxpayer.?

He just paid the taxes he was told to pay.

A very ?umble person, as Uriah Heep might say. A very ?umble person indeed.