The Coalition Avenir Quebec party is calling for an independent body completely free of political interference to eliminate corruption in government.
Party Leader François Legault said the public perception was that investigations by the permanent anti-corruption unit were being tampered with by the government, although he stopped short of endorsing that view.
“People have asked whether the anti-corruption unit has total independence or whether the Liberal party [government] at the time didn’t dictate the unit’s agenda. These questions are being asked. … [The allegations] would be difficult to prove, but we believe the unit must be independent,” Mr. Legault said.
The CAQ will table legislation calling for the merger of the permanent anti-corruption unit with the lobbying commissioner and the ethics commissioner under a single roof called the Political and Administrative Ethics Commissioner. It would manage a $33.5-million-a-year budget and be more efficient, according to the CAQ.
The commission would act as a watchdog against corruption and report directly to the Quebec National Assembly rather than a government ministry that could potentially influence its work. Mr. Legault underscored the need to uphold the appearance of independence, similar to what the provincial auditor or the chief electoral officer have accomplished over the years. Both report directly to the members of the National Assembly.
A spokesperson for Minister of Public Security Stéphane Bergeron said the government will examine the bill before deciding whether to support it.
CAQ public security critic Jacques Duchesneau recalled how political pressure by the former Liberal government interfered with his work when he headed the anti-collusion unit at the Ministry of Transportation. “They didn’t want my report. And when I handed them one, they did everything to avoid it,” he said.
Mr. Duchesneau’s explosive report described an elaborate network of influence peddling and collusion in the awarding of government road contracts. After it was made public, the Duchesneau report caused such a public outcry that it forced former Liberal premier Jean Charest to create the Charbonneau Commission after he had stubbornly refused to do so for more than two years. The inquiry is currently probing corruption in the construction industry, the awarding of government contracts and political party financing.
Mr. Duchesneau suspects that when the Charbonneau Commission resumes hearings next week, the inquiry will begin to examine the ties between political parties and the awarding of multimillion-dollar provincial government construction contracts.
“A lot of witnesses came forward and said there was illegal financing of [provincial] political parties, for instance. What did they [the political parties] get in return? That’s the question mark that we need to answer,” Mr. Duchesneau said.
As a former cop and anti-corruption crusader, Mr. Duchesneau explained that the millions of dollars lost because of corrupt practices will never be recovered. However, with the creation of an independent body, police or inspectors would be able to intervene freely on a project or construction site if they suspect fraud.
“Why should we have to wait to be robbed before reacting to try to recover our money and find the guilty parties? You can see how this process can be long and complicated. What we want is an insurance policy … and this new commissioner that will give that to us,” Mr. Duchesneau said.
This was the first of six anti-corruption bills the CAQ will be tabling this spring in the hope that it can at least get a few passed through the Parti Québécois minority government.