Quebec’s chief electoral officer has opened an investigation into fresh allegations of corruption and collusion between politicians and the construction industry.
One day after a hard-hitting Radio-Canada investigative report in which a contractor alleged a kickback system has been the norm for years, election officials acted.
“We are not surprised by the nature of the allegations,” said election official Cynthia Gagnon. “We are surprised by the depth of them.”
Gagnon could not say how long the investigation would take, but the announcement came on a day when politicians of all stripes found themselves on the hot seat responding to the report, aired on Radio-Canada’s Enquête show.
In the report, the owner of the Infrabec construction firm, Lino Zambito, revealed he and the Roche engineering firm organized five election fundraising evenings for Nathalie Normandeau, who until last September was minister of municipal affairs and deputy-premier in Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government.
The evenings poured $77,000 into the Liberal Party war chest.
Normandeau also received from Zambito nine tickets for her and her entourage for a private box at the Bell Centre for a Céline Dion concert in February 2009 and others for a Madonna concert.
According to Radio-Canada, Normandeau, acting against the wishes of her bureaucrats, granted an $11million subsidy for building of the Boisbriand water treatment plant, a contract awarded to Zambito and his brother Guiseppe Zambito.
Both are facing charges in connection with the contract as are two former Roche employees and former Boisbriand elected officials, including former mayor Sylvie St-Jean.
On Friday, both Normandeau and Roche angrily reacted to the show’s revelations.
In a statement, Normandeau conceded accepting the concert tickets was probably not the “wisest” idea, but insisted accepting them had absolutely no influence on her decision making.
She noted the tickets were for a show two years after the $11-million subsidy and insisted the decision to award the contract was made by the municipality and not her.
Normandeau told Radio-Canada that she went against the will of her own bureaucrats because sometimes not all subsidies “fit” the standard bureaucratic mould.
Normandeau left politics last September and is now the vice-president for strategic development at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton.
In its own statement, Roche accused Radio-Canada of playing judge and jury and indulging in the “public lynching” of two employees who have the right to a fair trial.
In the Radio-Canada report, Zambito describes the Boisbriand contract as typical of the way engineering, construction firms and parties operate in general.
He noted politicians on their own would never be able to raise the kind of money needed for election campaigns and said the practice of helping them applied regardless of who is in power, the Liberals or Parti Québécois.
First up to react was PQ leader Pauline Marois who said it’s up to the Charbonneau commission into collusion and corruption to look into the allegations.
But she said the PQ has always had stable financing, in power and out, which suggests it was not in the contract game Zambito described.
And she said the PQ never accepted firms trying to circumvent election rules by donating using bogus names. If there are guilty parties, she said they should be punished.
Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault said he now understands why Charest waited two years to call the inquiry.
He said Normandeau showed a serious lack of judgment in accepting nine tickets from an entrepreneur and such behaviour gives a black eye to all politicians.
Charest, on a trade mission in Brazil, referred the media to Normandeau’s statement.