Quebec's electoral officer has launched an investigation into contributions involving the riding association of Transport Minister Julie Boulet and is also looking into possible irregularities in the ridings of two other ministers.
In a separate investigation, the electoral officer also found potential irregularities involving Liberal Party contributions by employees at four engineering firms that in 2008 received government contracts worth several millions of dollars.
The investigations have sparked renewed calls by opposition parties for a full public inquiry into allegations of favoritism and influence-peddling involving contributions to the Quebec Liberal Party and the awarding of lucrative government contracts.
A spokeswoman for the Chief Electoral Officer, Marcel Blanchet, said the investigation involving Ms. Boulet's riding association was launched on Wednesday.
Last February, Ms. Boulet said companies had made contributions to her party - a move that would constitute a violation of Quebec's election law. The law states that only individuals are allowed to make contributions up to a maximum of $3,000 a year for each political party.
"It's legal in Quebec to make political contributions, for companies to give," Ms. Boulet told the National Assembly on Feb. 24.
Similar comments were made last fall by Education Minister Michelle Courchesne and junior Transport Minister Norman MacMillan, who also acknowledged that they had received contributions from companies.
The three ministers later stated that they had made a mistake and that they had never received corporate money. Ms. Boulet reiterated her explanation on Wednesday. "I simply made a slip of the tongue," she said. "I know that individuals contribute and not companies."
The Chief Electoral Officer did preliminary inquiries into Ms. Boulet's case and uncovered enough information to warrant a full investigation.
"We checked the financial statements and discovered other things. ... The elements that are being investigated cannot be publicly revealed" said Cynthia Gagnon, the spokeswoman for the Chief Electoral Officer.
She added that preliminary inquiries were under way into contributions to the other two ministers.
"We are having trouble getting documents from Ms. Courchesne's official representative," Ms. Gagnon said. "As for Mr. MacMillan, the inquiry is not completed."
A formal investigation has also been launched into the employees of four engineering firms - Cima+, Axor, BPR and SNC-Lavalin. The preliminary inquiry showed that 103 out of 123 employees working for the firms had made legal individual contributions to the Quebec Liberal Party. However, another 20 employees failed to co-operate with the electoral officer's inquiry and are now being investigated for potentially illegal party contributions.
The engineering firms insisted employee contributions are made on an individual basis and they never attempted to bypass the election law.
"If employees at SNC-Lavalin made contributions, they did so strictly on a voluntary basis ... and at no time did SNC-Lavalin reimburse an individual's contribution," said the company's director of communications, Dominique Morval. The investigation into the engineering firms was requested by Quebec Solidaire party MNA Amir Khadir, who questioned why the four firms had received several lucrative contracts in 2008 from the Ministry of Transportation without public tenders.
Mr. Khadir identified 111 employees from the four firms who had contributed a total of $291,920 to the Quebec Liberal Party in 2008. In many instances the employees contributed the maximum allowable amount.
"Some are just technicians, some are just secretaries but they contributed between $2,500 and $3,000 in 2008," Mr. Khadir said. "The average contribution to the Liberal Party is $460. So why does a secretary or technician give $3,000 to the Liberal Party?"