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Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responds to Opposition questions Thursday, April 25, 2013 at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responds to Opposition questions Thursday, April 25, 2013 at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

Globe Editorial: First Take

Quebec premier should butt out of corruption hearings Add to ...

The Parti Québécois demanded and got a public inquiry into allegations of corruption in Quebec’s construction industry, but suddenly the party’s leader and Premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, wants the Charbonneau Commission to proceed with “prudence.” The reason? The commission has begun examining evidence that a former PQ cabinet minister was involved in a scheme to rig a road-building contract. Mme. Marois is the one who should proceed with caution, lest she continue to interfere with an inquiry that must be free of government influence.

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The Charbonneau Commission, led by Justice France Charbonneau, was reluctantly created by former premier Jean Charest in 2011 to respond to a growing slag heap of evidence of corruption in the granting and management of public contracts in the construction industry. Since the commission began holding public hearings earlier this year, it has become the B-52 of public inquiries, dropping bombshell after bombshell on Quebec society, with much of the ordnance of the political variety.

So far the mayor of Montreal has resigned as a consequence of the hearings. The public has heard about mob members controlling access to contracts, and of death threats, bribes and illegal political donations. There have been tales of safes so full of cash they couldn’t be closed. The overall portrait so baroquely painted has been that of a systematic looting of municipal and provincial coffers through bid-rigging, and so many blind eyes turned to the obvious truth that it is a miracle officials can walk through Quebec’s halls of power without crashing into each other.

And now Mme. Marois suddenly wants the commission to be “prudent”? Because the name of a former PQ cabinet minister has come up?

As Mme. Marois knows full well, the whole point of a public inquiry is that it is independent of the government of the day and has the power to subpoena witnesses and gather evidence. It is being led by a judge in order to ensure impartiality. The PQ was correct to call for a full-fledged public inquiry in the first place; anything less would not have been an adequate response.

For Mme. Marois to now caution the inquiry in such a manner is tantamount to government interference. She should let the commission work without comment and await its report like everyone else. The commission’s capable staff will no doubt be able to separate witnesses’ testimony into the credible and unreliable without her guidance. She should remember, too, that when you open a can of worms, you might not like everything that wriggles out of it.

Note to readers: An early version of this online editorial incorrectly stated that the mayor of Laval resigned as a consequence of the Charbonneau Commission hearings. Gilles Vaillancourt resigned last year before the public hearings began, following police raids on his office and two of his properties as part of an anti-corruption investigation.

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