MONTREAL — A probe into a public spending scandal north of the border is calling on entertainment industryites to shed light on the matter.
Canuck TV producer Robert Scully has been giving evidence this week to a judicial inquiry investigating how Ottawa pumped an estimated C$250 million ($203 million) into financing pro-Canada advertising and promotion in Quebec in the late 1990s.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser estimates $100 million of that went to Liberal-friendly ad agencies that often failed to deliver.
The sponsorship money was meant to promote Canadian unity following the 1995 referendum during which Quebec nationalists narrowly lost a vote to separate Quebec from Canada.
Scully testified that the federal government sweetened his funding deal by giving him an extra $162,000 in consulting work to top up $364,000 in funding for “Canada Moderne,” a 39-part French-lingo TV series featuring interviews with prominent Canadians.
He said he worked for the extra cash, but that five advertising agencies pocketed $541,000 from the federal government though they did virtually no work on his productions.
The agencies received the cash for writing checks to Scully’s production company, Information Essentiale.
Scully told the inquiry he had no idea at the time the agencies were receiving so much money for so little work.
“I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the commissions,” he said.
Unlike most other TV producers in Canada, Scully did not have to apply to agencies like Telefilm Canada and wait for funding. Instead he tapped a direct line to funding. The money was paid to Scully via a series of Crown corporations, including train company Via Rail and Canada Post.
The government funding was not mentioned in the credits. When the story first broke in 2000 that Ottawa was putting cash into these shows without letting the public know, his productions were pulled from a number of Quebec networks.
Justice John Gomery is heading the inquiry into the sponsorship scandal. He has a mandate to recommend reforms to prevent future abuses.