Stunning revelations this week at the Charbonneau Commission exposing political ties to lucrative kickback schemes and contract rigging have prompted the Coalition Avenir Québec to demand tighter controls in the financing of municipal political parties.
Jacques Duchesneau, the anti-corruption crusader and former Montreal police chief who was elected as an MNA under the Coalition Avenir Quebec banner in last month’s provincial election, condemned the government’s “timid” approach in dealing with corruption at the municipal level.
A star witness at the Charbonneau Commission, former construction entrepreneur Lino Zambito, testified that a percentage of municipal contracts were illegally diverted into the coffer of municipal parties as well as in the pockets of mayors, councillors and senior city officials.
Mr. Duchesneau said it was urgent for the government to act now and also accused the Liberals leadership contenders of failing to confront the high level corruption issue which he said corroded the political system during their time in office.
“We have heard very little from the three leadership contenders on this issue,” Mr. Duchesneau said in an interview. “And the PQ is busy dealing with their own inconsistencies on various other policies that they are missing the big picture involving the costly burden corruption was having on the economy.”
The CAQ member noted that municipal elections will be held a year from now, and said measures needed to be introduced immediately to curtail illegal financing of municipal parties. Mr. Duchesneau said the PQ proposal to limit political donations to $100 a year at the provincial level should also be extended to the municipal parties.
Individual voters can currently make donations up to a maximum of $1,000 a year per political party. The donations are partially reimbursed when filing a provincial income tax return. For instance, for a $400 political contribution, the donor is reimbursed $315 by the government.
Mr. Duchesneau said that for each maximum $100 donation, three times that amount could be given to political parties using public funds. By eliminating the tax reimbursement and giving the money to the political parties, it would be neutral to the public purse.
But concerns were raised within the PQ that the proposal would encourage municipal parties to use the names of fictitious donors to justify receiving three times the amount of a $100 donation in public funds.
The Minister responsible for democratic institutions, Bernard Drainville, said he wants to introduce a political financing system that will eliminate the influence of “party bagmen” as well as the use of “straw names” that has been at the root of current schemes unveiled during the Charbonneau Commission hearings.
“We will make no compromises on eliminating the use of straw names and the use of bagmen who receive donations from those who want favours from the government,” Mr. Drainville said in an interview. “Our objective isn’t to settle one problem only to create another.”
Mr. Drainville said a bill will be tabled in November shortly after the National Assembly reconvenes for the fall session on Oct. 30. Whatever financing system is put into place, he said, will have to be funded through local tax dollars rather than from the provincial purse.