Alfonso Gagliano, politician (born 1942 in Italy; died 12 December 2020). Alfonso Gagliano was the Member of Parliament for the Montreal neighbourhood of Saint-Leonard from 1984 until 2002. Following the 1997 election, he served as Minister of Public Works and Government Services in the cabinet of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. He was also chair of the electoral commission of the Liberal Party in Quebec. Gagliano resigned from cabinet and the House of Commons to accept a position as ambassador to Denmark. He was fired by Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004 for his role in the sponsorship scandal.
Alfonso Gagliano immigrated to Canada from Italy when he was 16 years old. He was elected as a trustee to the school board of Jérôme-Le Royer, Quebec, in 1977. He became chair of the board in 1983. For a number of years, he worked as a certified general accountant.
Career in Politics
Gagliano was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for the federal riding of Saint-Léonard-Anjou in 1984. He initially served as the official opposition critic for small and medium-sized businesses, Revenue Canada (now Canada Revenue Agency) and Canada Post.
After being elected MP for the new federal riding of Saint-Léonard in 1988, Gagliano became a member of the House Standing Committee on Finance. He became official opposition critic for immigration in 1990 and chief opposition whip in 1991. From 1988 until February 1991, he chaired the Quebec Liberal Caucus.
Re-elected for a third term in the Liberal victory of 1993, Gagliano became chief government whip. In 1994, he was promoted to secretary of state for Parliamentary Affairs and deputy government leader in the House of Commons. In January 1996, he became minister of Labour and deputy government leader while also becoming chair of the Electoral Commission of the Liberal Party of Canada (Quebec).
Re-elected MP for Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel in 1997, Gagliano was appointed Minister of Public Works and Government Services. He also became responsible for Canada Post, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Royal Canadian Mint and Canada Lands Company Ltd.
As the minister of Public Works under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Gagliano oversaw the government’s sponsorship program. It was created in 1996, after the near defeat of the federalist side in the 1995 Quebec Referendum. The sponsorship program was designed to promote federalism in that province by advertising at community, cultural, and sporting events. Until 1999, it was managed by public works official Chuck Guité. He contracted out much of the work to private advertising firms. From the program’s inception until 2002, sponsorship spending was more than $40 million per year.
Upon becoming prime minister in December 2003, Paul Martin set out to distance himself from the growing scandal. He cancelled the sponsorship program and fired Gagliano, the minister responsible for it, from his new position as ambassador to Denmark. In 2004, Auditor General Sheila Fraser confirmed media reports that around $100 million of the sponsorship program’s funds went to advertising agencies and public relations firms that had close ties to the Liberal Party. The Gomery Inquiry, appointed by Martin in February 2004, found that Gagliano had steered the money to specific firms. Some of these companies then gave the money back to the Liberal Party as donations.
Gagliano was never charged with a crime over the sponsorship scandal. He denied any wrongdoing. In his 2006 memoir, Les Corridors du pouvoir (The Corridors of Power), he accused Martin of destroying his career. “It destroyed my political career, and I think my reputation has been destroyed,” he said at the time. “It’s been tough for the family. But I have a strong family, and we bonded over this hard time.”