A Canadian parliamentary committee plans to conduct a preliminary inquiry Wednesday on the circumstances surrounding Canada's decision to pay former White House deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver $105,000 for lobbying services.
"The basic issue is whether our government spent taxpayers' dough knowingly violating U.S. law," Lloyd Axworthy, an opposition Liberal Party member of Parliament who has called for a wide-ranging investigation, said in an interview.
"It would seem to me that given the sophistication of our people in Washington," he added, "they had a pretty good idea they were running on the boundary."
The U.S. General Accounting Office told a congressional committee yesterday that Deaver "appears" to have violated conflict-of-interest laws when he influenced the Reagan administration to make an agreement with Canada on acid rain while he was in the White House and later as a lobbyist for Canada.
The 20-page report that the GAO prepared after a five-month investigation of Deaver suggested he may have violated three separate laws in his dealings on behalf of Canada. Those laws restrict former government officials from representing anyone on matters in which they had been personally and substantially involved while in office.
Canadian External Affairs Minister Joe Clark is to be questioned about the matter late on Wednesday when he appears before the parliamentary Committee on External Affairs and Internal Trade in Ottawa.
Axworthy has also requested that Fred Doucet, a senior policy adviser to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and Allan E. Gotlieb, the Canadian ambassador to the United States, be called later to give testimony. Conservative Party committee chairman William C. Winegard said he did not want to "prejudge" whether they would be summoned and would not decide until after Clark appears.
Gotlieb, invoking diplomatic immunity, has refused to testify before U.S. congressional committees. However, he did acknowledge last Friday in a letter to Rep. John D. Dingell (D -- Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, that before Deaver left the White House to open his lobbying business, a Canadian official had remarked to Deaver in a "lighthearted" manner that Canada could use a man of his talents. Clark said yesterday that Doucet was the official to whom Gotlieb was referring.
Gotlieb characterized the remark as "inconsequential" and said in the letter that the first discussion with Deaver about a possible contract came on May 16, 1985, six days after Deaver left the White House. However, a knowledgeable Canadian source told The Washington Post that Canadian officials laid the groundwork for a deal with Deaver before he left the White House.
U.S. law governing public ethics is far more stringent than Canadian rules, which has caused some bewilderment here about the intense public attention being given to the matter in the United States.
In the House of Commons today, George Baker, a Liberal member, said he was baffled about why it was necessary to spend $105,000 since Mulroney's government has so often stressed its broad access and warm relations with the Reagan administration.
"Has our policy gone down to 'Leave it to Deaver'?" he inquired jestingly. "Canadian people have a right to know what Mr. Deaver did, or promised to do, to earn that $100,000."
The expectation in Ottawa was that intensive inquiry into the Canadian role in the affair would be delayed until after Friday when Deaver is to testify before a closed session of Dingell's committee.