What Gomery has seen and heard since February 2004 suggests something more troubling than a national rescue that wobbled harmlessly off the rails. Rashly conceived in the panicked aftermath of the 1995 Quebec referendum and sometimes executed with gangland methods, the program squandered an estimated $250 million waving the flag, helping Liberals win elections and making a few friends of the ruling party almost instantly rich.
Worse still, it tumbled uselessly to the ground far short of its target. Nothing in recent opinion polls or political trends supports the conclusion that the startlingly unsophisticated branding of Canada in Quebec brought separatists to their senses.
At best and in the short-term, taxpayer dollars stuffed into brown envelopes may have helped Chrétien's Liberals win marginal Quebec seats in the 1997 federal election and again three years later. At worst and in the long term, they bought Canada and the ruling party the anger of Quebecers who understandably resent being mistaken for rubes and tarnished as corrupt.
In fact, rarely has the doctrine of the ends justifies the means seemed so hollow. In blurring the lines between public policy and party interests, in cynically rifling the national treasury to make Liberals synonymous with Canada in Quebec, those clustered around the former prime minister made the country more, not less, vulnerable and boosted separatist prospects.
Even if Paul Martin skates by and the Liberals win the next election, the damage to the country has been done and will not be repaired for years, if ever.
The sponsorship program was supposed to make Canada and the Liberal Party one and the same in the eyes of the Quebec people. It has succeeded well beyond its creators' expectations. Now both the party and the country are regarded as hopelessly corrupt institutions to be avoided and scorned at all costs.
Worst of all, Canada's very existence will have been placed in jeopardy because of a petty political feud between two petty Quebec politicians.
Jean Chretien wanted all of the credit for saving Canada with this program, but got out of town early so that the Auditor General's report could explode in Paul Martin's face.
How disgusting that Chretien and Martin can regard the country as simply another battleground for the Liberal Party's civil war.