DRUMMONDVILLE, QUE—Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois suggested someone upset about her party’s crackdown on corruption is behind a damaging report that suggests her husband solicited political donations on her behalf that were illegal.
The French-language broadcaster Radio-Canada reported Monday that two representatives of Quebec engineering firms say they were asked by Claude Blanchet to give money to Marois’ leadership campaign in 2007 and to her provincial election campaign in 2008.
A sworn affidavit from one of those individuals says Blanchet received a series of cheques totalling $25,000 in the spring of 2007 and the hope was that the engineering firm would have “privileged access to Madame Pauline Marois.” Two employees of that same firm said in the Radio-Canada report that the company later reimbursed them for the expense.
Allegations of improper political fundraising for the Parti Quebecois by Pauline Marois’ husband show that the party’s ethical standing is tarnished, says Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard.
“The last two or three years apparently the PQ was without any stain. That’s obviously not the case,” said Couillard, recalling how members of the PQ made a show of wearing white scarves outside the provincial legislature to demand an inquiry into government corruption in May 2010. The Liberal’s Jean Charest was premier at the time.
“Remember the white scarf,” Couillard told reporters Tuesday. “The white scarf is stained, and even ripped.”
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he names of the four individuals cited in the report were not published and the Star has not been able to independently verify the information, which has been firmly denied by Marois, Blanchet and the PQ.
“I can’t say who these people are . . . but I am certain that there are people who have an interest in the Parti Quebecois not returning to power because the work we have done has been exemplary,” Marois said Tuesday morning.
“There are people who have gone before the Charbonneau commission, who have lost their jobs and have been profoundly affected by what we have learned at the Charbonneau commission and who hold us, in part, responsible because we asked for the inquiry.”
The fundraising scheme laid out in the Radio-Canada report would have been illegal under Quebec’s election laws, which until recently had limited donations to $3,000. But such manoeuvres have been documented in detail at the ongoing Charbonneau corruption inquiry as a way for large companies to fund municipal and provincial political parties faxless pay day loans. The expectation is that those firms will in turn have preferential access to lucrative government contracts and sway over legislation that may affect its business interests.
The bulk of the revelations about illegal political financing thus far have focused on funds raised by the Quebec Liberal party but witnesses at the corruption inquiry have testified that they also gave money to the PQ.
The allegations concerning Marois’ husband are significant because they come in the final days of an election campaign in which she has been sharply critical of the Liberal party’s ethical record and called on current party leader Philippe Couillard, who was elected leader just last year, to denounce the past actions of his party.
The PQ leader said while Blanchet has at times been a fundraiser for the party, she was “certain” that her husband never raised money for the leadership campaign in 2007.
She said that “like all parties” the PQ asks for financial contributions from “people we know, friends, supporters and citizens.” When the party receives a donation by cheque, it tries to assure the account can be traced back to a real person with a bank account and a verifiable residential address.
“Even our tax system presumes that people are acting in good faith and respect the law,” Marois said.
How the province’s political parties raise money has been a dominant issue in the province for months — including how construction and engineering firms fill party coffers in return for lucrative public projects — as a public inquiry probes government corruption. The commission was put on hold in March for the duration of the provincial election campaign.
Speaking Tuesday before an appearance at the Montreal Chambre of Commerce, Couillard said Blanchet still has questions to answer about the alleged fundraising scheme for his wife. “I don’t assume culpability,” he added.
When Marois came to power with a minority government in 2012, the PQ changed the maximum individual contribution limit, axing it from $3,000 to $100.
Couillard said the rules of the game have therefore changed in recent years, and that the current campaign shows elections can be carried out without “large amounts of money that circulates.”
“We have to remember that changes have already occurred, both before and after the election of September 2012,” said Couillard.