Monday, July 13, 2009

Before Rod Bruinooge There Was Brian Mulroney

Further to the story of Winnipeg MP Rod Bruinooge and his relationship with lawyer and businessman Gary Thomas Brazzell; we see that Mr. Brazzell was involved with Brian Mulroney several years before doing business with Bruinooge and his family.

Apparently in 1985, Mulroney fired the board at Via Rail and appointed his own cronies; including one Gary Thomas Brazzell.

In fact he fired the boards of many crown corporations, making it easier to grant contracts to friends and supporters, when it was friends and supporters who would be involved in the process.

What's interesting about this is that it actually sets the stage for the Sponsorship scandal, referred to as Adscam, that helped bring Stephen Harper to power.

Harper was in Ottawa in 1985, as chief aide to Progressive Conservative MP Jim Hawkes, the man he would later screw over when the National Citizens Coalition spent $ 50,000.00 to politically destroy him.

I'm not suggesting here that he was part of Mulroney's corruption, but no doubt rubbed shoulders with many of the people involved; and Gary Brazzell was given a patronage appointment in Harper's government, through Maxime Bernier.

In the case of the following story, an ad agency, with little experience, Publicité Martin, was granted a lucrative contact to run a campaign for VIA Rail, much to the shock of VIA employees, since there were many better qualified agencies who had submitted tenders.

We can see how Mulroney cronies engaged in a little arm twisting to make that happen, and later this same ad agency and at least one other Mulroney appointee, Marc LeFrançois, would be named in Adsam several years later.

"On the take": Gary Brazzell and VIA Rail
Stevie Cameron
On the take: crime, corruption and greed in the Mulroney years
Chapter Nineteen: It Pays To Advertise

André Verret couldn’t believe his eyes. A friend told him that if he sat in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s Café de Paris at breakfast any weekday morning, he could watch hotel manager Fernand Roberge hold court at a corner table for a stream of interesting individuals.

“Out of pure curiosity,” said Verret, a senior public servant who had moved from Ottawa in 1984 to work in the public affairs office at VIA Rail, “I went to have a look. Every morning around 7 or 7:30 people would spend about fifteen minutes with Mr. Roberge, well-known people, lawyers and the like.” Sometimes a dozen people in all would meet with Roberge over coffee, each person or group of two or three taking no more than twenty minutes.

“It was really like his office,” said Verret, adding that Roberge’s visitors would leave the table “with beautiful; smiles on their faces.”

Like pilgrims searching for the Holy Grail, hungry contract seekers had a number of choices during the Mulroney years. As we’ve seen, some were comfortable cutting their deals with Roch LaSalle over a power breakfast at Nate’s in Ottawa. Many Atlantic Canada businessmen found their way up the back staircase above the New Glasgow pizza parlour to try to humour Big Daddy. A few of the more sophisticated would book a table at Le Mas des Oliviers in Montreal to lobby Guy Charbonneau. And some, as André Verret discovered, preferred the Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s Café de Paris.

Advising on federal advertising contracts in Quebec was among Roberge’s pleasant duties, according to half a dozen well-connected advertising executives based in Montreal and Toronto. At least one senior official in the federal government’s Advertising Management Group, the agency set up to handle the government’s advertising, routinely received calls from Roberge—who was at this time a private citizen with no official authority of any kind. (He was later made a senator by Mulroney)

During the Mulroney years, Montreal’s advertising and public relations community made the Ritz coffee shop something of a hangout in the mornings. Perhaps they were hoping for the chance of a word with Mulroney, who always stayed at the hotel when he was in town, or maybe they were just making sure they had regular contact with Roberge. “There was a real clique there,” said one of the advertising executives.

One of the members was Marcel Côté, a partner in Sécor, who later worked in Mulroney’s office as his communication’s advisor.

One morning in March 1985 Verret was just finishing his breakfast when he saw an acquaintance, then a senior manager at a Montreal advertising firm called Publicité Martin, run by Montreal adman Yvon Martin, in an intense conversation with Roberge. A few minutes later the man rose to his feet, shook Roberge’s hand, and left, grinning broadly.

When he saw Verret, he came over. He spoke enthusiastically about landing the VIA Rail advertising account. Verret, who had been at VIA Rail since June 1984, was skeptical. “In that kind of contract there is always a call for a public tender,” explained Verret, and as far as he knew when the Martin official spoke to him, that process was still under way.

“Six or seven or eight firms were invited to tender, and we always tried in the past to be as fair as possible.” Back at VIA, several other people were just as incredulous as Verret. To begin with, although the company had been in business for fifteen years, Publicité Martin had not made the original list of potential agencies drawn up by VIA’s advertising department because the firm was not considered to be equipped to handle large national accounts, certainly not one as significant as VIA’s.

But Mulroney had just fired the old VIA Rail board and appointed a new one packed with cronies and party bagmen. It was a crew that was feeling its oats, and one of the recently arrived board members saw to it that Martin’s firm was added to the short list.

The final forming bidding process began in March 1985, just before Verret encountered his friend at the Ritz. About nine firms were invited to present their pitches over a two-day period to a committee of three new VIA board members, Gary Brazell (sic) from Winnipeg, Paul Norris from Edmonton, and Marc LeFrançois from Quebec City, and five executives from VIA’s advertising and marketing departments, vice-president Michael Kieran, Jim Warrington, Christina Sirsley, Preston Beaumont, and Nicole Alyot.

By the end, three firms had been dropped from the roster, and two of the nine firms needn’t have bothered to show up. One was MacLaren Advertising, the firm that had enjoyed a near-monopoly on advertising under the Liberals; a second was McKim, which was known to have backed Joe Clark’s failed bid to hang onto the Tory leadership the year before.

“They were treated like shit by the board members,” said a witness to the proceedings. “It was very embarrassing.”After the first day of proceedings, the VIA board members and staff went off to dinner at Montreal’s Atlantic Pavilion, courtesy of VIA, and feasted on seafood, everyone trying to guess what was in the minds of their companions concerning the day’s events.

Some members continued the evening’s festivities at the Ritz-Carlton’s bar where they quaffed champagne, again at VIA’s expense, until the small hours of morning. Others retired to their hotel rooms to prepare for day two of the presentations. This would be the day on which Martin would make his presentation, and Paul Norris and Gary Brazell (sic) had already made it clear they were strong supporters of the firm.

When Martin’s firm formally made its pitch, it seemed to overwhelm the board members and underwhelm the VIA staffers. “At best it was mediocre,” said one staff person who was there. Another former VIA official agreed. “The pitch was not very good, it was not strong,” the official said.

“If they had been innovative and understood the problems of VIA they would have done a better job, but they did not do their homework and gave a presentation that was somewhat silly, that was not up to the task. They did not understand what trains are about in Canada, they did not do the research to understand it.”

The next day, a Saturday morning, the eight committee members met at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel for a final review. The board members stated their admiration for Martin’s presentation but agreed that the one done by Cosette Communication-Marketing Publicité had also been excellent. The VIA staffers were of a different view. Kieran vehemently opposed Martin and said so, while his colleagues mouthed perfunctory platitudes about Martin’s pitch and then stated their preferences for some of the other agencies that had competed.

After hearing their remarks, Paul Norris looked surprised. “I don’t think we were all at the same party,” he commented. Kieran did not give up without a fight. He was relentless and persisted against the obvious will of the board members. “It was extraordinary that the board would involve itself with such matters,” says Kieran today. “It was not illegal, mind you, but it was extraordinary.”

About two weeks later the official decision was made at VIA’s head office and the committee members were duly notified. There were two winners, Martin and Cossette. Cossette had been high on everyone’s list and it won 50 per cent of the total contract, or $4.5 million. Known to spend lavish sums on its creative talent, Cossette was to handle VIA’s national advertising—everything outside the Windsor-Quebec City corridor.

Now an industry giant, in 1985 Cossette was still a small regional advertising agency, explained one advertising executive, “but it was known to be extremely tight with Roberge.” (1) Martin, an outfit that was reputed to place a higher value on its accounting department, was given the corridor and $4.5 million to do the job. Yvon Martin was disappointed with the results; he had hoped to land the entire package. But he didn’t need to worry, especially after the firm went on to win other excellent contracts.

To celebrate his good fortune, Martin, who had started the company in his own home and was still the sole owner, bought himself a new $70,000 Jaguar.

Another former VIA employee, a senior manager who was familiar with the contracts, agreed with Verret’s version of events and remembers what happened after the first ad campaign ran. “We did reviews of his [Martin’s] firm: how successful they were with our campaigns. The presentation the agency made to us was the pits.

They really ignored VIA. They took the contract for granted. They never assigned the right account executive to it and their ads were shitty.” The executive would complain to the VIA manager who deal with Martin and the manager agreed but could say only, “I can’t do anything. My hands are tied.” Martin still has the VIA Rail account, and he has it all: Cossette no longer has half.

Footnote 1Cossette was also supposed to get the Air Canada advertising contract, then split evenly between an English firm and a Quebec firm. “My marching orders are that it’s to go to Cossette,” said one senior Tory on the board of the PC Canada Fund to a friend. Only the intervention of Air Canada’s president, Claude Taylor, prevented the move. Cameron, pp. 316-320 ( Toronto: McFarlane Walter and Ross, 1994 WPL 971.064)

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