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Volcanic confusion clouds Guergis ethics referral

1. 'Co-operate with what?' John Baird told the Commons yesterday that the private eye at the centre of the Helena Guergis affair declined to co-operate with the Ethics Commissioner's investigation.

"I understand that the Ethics Commissioner telephoned the third party in question, who then declined to co-operate," the Transport Minister said. "That is regrettable, but I think it demonstrates that the Prime Minister acted quickly, appropriately and ethically by not trying to somehow sweep this matter under the rug."

But the Ethics Commissioner isn't so sure.

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A spokeswoman for Mary Dawson said yesterday she knows nothing about the private investigator. "I don't know where that came from but I haven't heard that," Jocelyne Brisebois said.

Ms. Brisebois had been asked about the issue even before Mr. Baird even made his statements in the House. Media reports during the day had noted the Ethics Commissioner declined to launch a probe because the private eye - Derrick Snowdy, who is bankrupt and owes $13-million - was not co-operating.

"I haven't heard that and co-operate with what? She's not investigating. Co-operate with who?"

All this illustrates how much confusion is swirling around this story as the Prime Minister and his surrogates refuse to explain why they referred the situation to the RCMP and Ethics Commissioner. It appears that even the Transport Minister - Stephen Harper's designated hitter on the file - is unclear as to what went on.

The issue about the ethics probe blew up yesterday after Ms. Dawson told CBC radio she had not received an official request from the Prime Minister about Ms. Guergis. The Commons conduct watchdog announced earlier this week she was not going to investigate, saying she was not in a position to proceed.

Her spokeswoman, Ms. Brisebois said yesterday that the letter sent by the Prime Minister to the Ethics Commissioner contained "some information" about the allegations but "it didn't provide specific details."

The PMO and Mr. Baird said critics were splitting hairs as to exactly what the Prime Minister asked the Ethics Commissioner to do.

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"These allegations were brought forward to the Prime Minister. He does not know whether they are true. He does not know whether they warrant an investigation," Mr. Baird said.

"He did not want to simply sweep these allegations under the rug, so he forwarded the allegations and referred them to the Office of the Ethics Commissioner. He said that this individual had come forward and raised some very serious allegations and that he wanted to refer this matter to them."

Mr. Baird noted, too, that the Prime Minister referred the matter to the RCMP.

"He did not ask the RCMP to conduct an investigation because the Prime Minister in this country does not ask the RCMP to do investigations. There was a matter of concern over serious allegations. He referred them to the RCMP," he said.

"It is up to the RCMP to make a determination as to whether they do or do not want to open an investigation, just as it is with the Ethics Commissioner."

2. An ashen journey. Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton and, Gilles Duceppe are flying out tomorrow for the Polish president's state funeral. The Prime Minister has invited his opposition colleagues to accompany him; they all accepted.

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It will be a long, long flight - on so many levels. And that's mainly because these four political opponents, who regularly spar in the House of Commons, will be together for many, many hours in a much smaller venue: the Prime Minister's Airbus.

Ash from the Iceland volcano is likely to force the plane to take a much longer, less-direct, southerly route to Poland. The gritty cloud has closed airports in Europe and Britain; most transatlantic flights are grounded. Air Canada, for example, has cancelled all of its flights to London, Paris and Frankfurt until further notice.

So, how to get Canada's political leaders to Poland for Sunday's state funeral? The plan, so far, is to leave early tomorrow morning for Krakow.

The ash, however, is almost to the south of France and airplanes can't fly through it; it has the consistency of sand and stalls airplane engines when it is ingested. This means, according to an expert, that the Prime Minister's plane will have to fly a southerly route across the Atlantic to avoid the cloud.

Last night meteorologists were telling airlines that the spewing ash could last "potentially another 48 hours," the airline expert says. And the Canadians are alone in trying to figure out how to get their leaders to Poland.

U.S. President Barack Obama is to attend the funeral, as are France's Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and Czech President Vaclav Klaus. The European leaders could wind up travelling by helicopter or train to Krakow.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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