MONTREAL – Quebec politicians blew a gasket when Maclean’s magazine said Quebec was Canada’s most corrupt province but critics have a warehouse of new ammunition.
Recent allegations of mob infiltration in construction contracting as well as underground party financing and cronyism have shaken the province’s political class to its core.
Third-term Liberal premier Jean Charest continues to resist calls from rivals for a public inquiry. Charest struck an anti-corruption police squad, called Operation Hammer, to look into the claims and says police should be allowed to do their work.
But with no arrests in more than a year, and new reports of salacious scandals, demands for a public probe are coming from all levels. Joining the chorus is the mayor of Montreal, whose own land and contracting scandals have led to six police investigations.
And, this week, more potential embarrassment. The Quebec legislature’s website now features a link to a citizens’ petition calling on Charest to quit. More than 1,000 people were signing the online document every hour and nearly 80,000 had signed by Tuesday evening.
“(Charest) and the Liberal government refuses to accede to popular demand concerning ... a commission of inquiry into close links between political party financing and the awarding of government contracts,” reads the preamble.
The string of scandals widened Tuesday following claims by former justice minister Serge Menard that the mayor of a sprawling Montreal suburb offered him an illegal $10,000 cash donation in a white envelope. Menard said he refused the offer from Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt while running for the Parti Quebecois in 1993.
A second MNA, Liberal Vincent Auclair, says Vaillancourt also offered him cash. The embattled mayor denies the allegations amid demands that Charest put the city of 400,000 people under trusteeship.
The premier has remained calm amid the growing storm. He has a majority and doesn’t have to call an election until 2013. But one comment made on Saturday by the head of Quebec’s third party, the ADQ, had him hot under the collar.
Gerard Deltell compared Charest to a mafia godfather following media reports that mob-controlled construction firms fix the price of provincial contracts.
The premier says he’ll sue Deltell if he doesn’t apologize.
Recent Quebec scandals:
- A new book alleges nearly 600 business pay protection money to the mafia.
- Opposition politicians hand documents to police alleging that four construction firms funnelled $400,000 to the provincial Liberals using false names.
- Former deputy transport minister Francois Breaudry tells the CBC that 14 Montreal-area construction firms, backed by the mafia, fix the bidding process for public infrastructure contracts.
- A media report says the mafia tried and failed to extort the head of the construction firm that was repairing the roof at Montreal city hall.
- Mayoral candidate Benoit Labonte resigns after admitting he accepted cash from a businessman accused of schmoozing politicians in exchange for city contracts.
- The RCMP arrest two Revenue Canada employees amid allegations of collusion with a construction company linked to Montreal city hall.
- Provincial police meet former justice minister Marc Bellemare, who says Premier Jean Charest and two party fundraisers pressured him to name three Liberal-friendly candidates as judges.
- Family minister Tony Tomassi quits in July following revelations that he used a credit card belonging to security firm BCIA, which received $4 million in government financing and donated thousands of dollars to the Liberals.