Stéphane Dion was forced to backtrack yesterday from a controversial comment that he would allow back into the party a senior organizer who was banned for life over sponsorship-scandal misdeeds.
Mr. Dion told the Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil that he would not object to the lifting of the ban on senior organizer Marc-Yvan Côté, who admitted he distributed $120,000 in cash to Liberal candidates during the 1997 election campaign -- money diverted from the sponsorship program.
Mr. Dion's gaffe brought back a whiff of the scandal that the Liberals had hoped was behind them. Opponents seized on the remark as evidence that the new Liberal Leader has a lax attitude toward the improprieties members of his party committed.
The lifetime ban on Mr. Côté -- a former provincial health minister who was for years the Liberal strongman in the Quebec City area -- was perhaps too severe, Mr. Dion told the newspaper in an interview published yesterday.
"Certainly, you cannot exclude forever people who made mistakes," he was quoted as saying. "And someone who has even, I believe, recognized their error."
Yesterday, Mr. Dion backtracked, insisting that he would have no involvement in reinstating Mr. Côté and suggesting it probably will not occur. Continued...