OTTAWA (CP) - The Liberal government found itself doused by fresh scandals Monday as it braced for the roaring return of an old one: the sponsorship fiasco.
The Liberals were already drafting plans to deal with an expected scorching by Justice John Gomery in his report on the sponsorship scandal in two weeks. But their behind-the-scenes plan to announce a government reform package was undermined by the pummeling they took over new allegations of ethical abuses.
The government was dogged by allegations of expense-claim irregularities in the Fisheries Department; improper contracting in the Indian Affairs Department; and a golden handshake with a Royal Canadian Mint boss who resigned amid scandal.
"The virus of Liberal entitlement, rot and corruption has spread into the department of unlimited spending," said Tory MP Jim Prentice.
With Gomery's first report slated for release Nov. 1 and an election expected within months, the opposition is trying to prove the Liberals haven't cleaned up their act since the sponsorship affair.
They used the daily question period to hammer the government over:
-A spending scandal in the Fisheries Department that has included the firing of two civil servants.
-A contract awarded by the Indian Affairs Department on the condition that an outside consultant leave no paper trail.
-Whether the prime minister's office guaranteed David Dingwall a severance package last month before he resigned as head of the Royal Canadian Mint amid yet another ethics scandal.
- A series of $100-plus pizza dinners Immigration Minister Joe Volpe placed on his expense account.
The federal cabinet is considering a series of measures intended to make government more transparent and accountable.
Sources said Treasury Board President Reg Alcock hopes to announce the measures in the coming days - even before Gomery's sponsorship report.
The plan has not yet been approved by cabinet but one government official said it would help take the sting out of Gomery's report.
But another official said the changes being proposed by Alcock are ones he has advocated for years and have nothing to do with the sponsorship scandal.
Also Monday, Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan said bureaucrats had been fired over alleged abuses in his department.
The two employees - both from the East Coast - were fired for making fraudulent travel claims.
One was a worker in Newfoundland who fraudulently spent $10,000, using a credit card inappropriately. The other involved fraud over $1,000.
Fisheries officials said the firings were not directly related to a new audit at the department, first reported by The Canadian Press. The review found a litany of problems in hospitality and travel expenses, including exorbitant prices for airfare and travel claims with no evidence of any work having been done.
One staffer charged $6,000 in hotel bills and meals so he could be with his spouse for a birth.
All expenses over $1,000 now are being examined, and there are spot checks of claims under $1,000.
The expense-claim problems at the Fisheries Department were the subject of fresh attacks in the Commons over spending and contracting irregularities.
Tory Leader Stephen Harper also cited problems at Indian Affairs, where a contract this year stipulated that a consultant was to leave no paper trail.
"Why, nearly two years after the auditor general condemned this practice in the sponsorship scandal, does the government still award contracts with no proper audit paper trail?" he asked.
©The Canadian Press, 2005