Political parties in Quebec are being financed largely by “dirty money” that flows into their coffers from companies who then benefit from political favours, claimed former anti-collusion boss Jacques Duchesneau during his fourth day of testimony before the Charbonneau Commission.
Speaking mainly off-the-cuff but partly from prepared notes, Duchesneau told co-commissioners France Charbonneau and Renaud Lachance on Tuesday that a full 70 per cent of political donations in Quebec are being made illegally, without the knowledge of Elections Quebec.
Political parties have two pots, he alleged; one for legitimate and legal contributions, and the other for gifts that are handed over in secret.
Some of the cash donations to political parties have been so enormous, Duchesneau said, that party fundraisers “have had trouble shutting the safe’s door.”
“Dirty money finances elections,” he claimed.
The former Montreal police chief and co-author of a damning report that detailed widespread corruption and collusion within Transport Quebec said that following his testimony in front of a parliamentary hearing in September, he was approached by more than a dozen people who wanted to give him inside information about the improper funding of political parties in Quebec — something he touched on only briefly in his initial report.
Duchesneau said that based on discussions with those anonymous sources, he decided to draft at his own initiative a second document entitled: “Illegal financing of political parties: a hypocritical system where influence is for rent, where decisions are for sale.”
That 50-page report has been handed over to the Charbonneau Commission’s investigative team, but not entered into evidence — meaning it will not be publicly available.
In his first report, which Duchesneau has admitted he leaked to the media last fall — shady political financing was painted as a way for companies to “push” politicians into doing things that would benefit the companies’ bottom lines.
What he has discovered since then, Duchesneau testified, is that it’s more a question of “pull”, with political fundraisers approaching companies and asking for funding. Those companies will then inflate invoices for work being done on public projects, Duchesneau said. He added that up to 50 companies in the Montreal area alone had submitted such “false” invoices.
This system is deeply entrenched in Quebec, he said, and it will be difficult to clean house without more careful monitoring and harsher penalties.
“No matter what the rules, people will get around them,” Duchesneau told the commissioners. “The only real deterrent is the certainty that you will be caught.”
The former cop did not single out any particular political party on Tuesday. He did say, however, that the problem is just as bad at the municipal level as it is at the provincial level, if not worse.
Duchesneau was flanked once again by two of his former staff members, who worked with him within the special anti-collusion unit. Both Annie Trudel and Martin Morin are now employed by the broader anti-corruption unit, known by the French acronym UPAC. All three witnesses spent the morning answering specific questions about the report they produced last year, and continued naming names.
During her testimony on Monday, Trudel said that there were two companies who had hired people to examine government contracts and look for loopholes so that the firms could add ”extras” onto the projects and charge the government more to complete the work. Those employees were reportedly rewarded with a 10 per cent commission, she alleged.
On Tuesday, her colleague Morin identified the employees as Pierre Bédard from Neilson Inc. and Michel Marchand from EBC Inc.
Nielson Inc. is owned by Franco Fava, a prominent Liberal Party of Quebec fundraiser.
Commissioner Lachance asked the witnesses if they had any proof that the companies were engaged in “extra seeking”. Trudel replied that both Neilson and EBC added extras to contracts far more frequently than other companies.
Morin also presented the commissioners with a list of twelve former high-ranking civil servants within Transport Quebec who had moved into the private sector and are now working for various large construction companies or engineering firms. No evidence was presented suggesting that those people are connected with any wrongdoing.
At one point during the proceedings, the commissioners appeared frustrated by the witnesses’ refusal to name any of the anonymous sources who had provided them with information during their probe of the provincial Transportation Department. Duchesneau said that while his team wants to cooperate with the commission, “there are constraints.”
“People are scared, and we must be aware of this,” he said. “Providing the information you’re asking for has consequences. We don’t want to hide anything, but (revealing the names) would betray the people who helped us.”
On Tuesday afternoon, lawyers for other parties who have been granted “participant” status at the commission had an opportunity to cross-examine Duchesneau, Trudel and Morin. Denis Houle, lawyer for the association representing roadwork companies in Quebec (ACRGTQ), said he was troubled by the testimony that named companies and their employees without solid proof.
“The problem I have is that you bring us one example (of each type of scheme), which sometimes is false, and you are generalizing,” Houle said. “I think you’re pushing it.”
Duchesneau shot back:
“By trivializing the situation, I think you’re pushing it.”
Cross-examination of the witnesses will continue on Wednesday. The commission will then take a two-month break for the summer.