The commission of inquiry into Quebec’s construction industry received precise allegations of illicit political donations to former premier Pauline Marois’s husband, but never brought them to the public’s attention, according to newly released documents.
The revelation, contained in documents filed with Quebec’s press council, raises questions about the Charbonneau Commission’s efforts to get to the bottom of the fundraising system that plagued the province’s politics for years.
The public inquiry ended its hearings last summer after uncovering evidence of large-scale corruption and collusion in the worlds of construction and engineering in Quebec. However, the commission has been criticized for not looking deeply enough into fundraising at the provincial level and a number of high-profile officials were never asked to appear in front of Commissioner France Charbonneau.
The notable absents included former premiers Jean Charest and Ms. Marois, former top Liberal fundraiser Marc Bibeau, and Ms. Marois’s husband, businessman Claude Blanchet.
Documents filed as part of a dispute in front of Quebec’s press council now raise concerns about the questions asked of witnesses who did appear at the public hearings.
An unnamed senior executive at a major engineering firm told commission investigators that he personally provided $5,000 in cheques to Mr. Blanchet as part of the Parti Québécois’ fundraising efforts in 2008, according to documents filed by Radio-Canada with the Conseil de Presse du Québec.
The donations exceeded the maximum individual donation of $3,000, and the funds were provided as part of a system in which firms unlawfully reimbursed their employees’ donations to political parties, according to Radio-Canada.
Radio-Canada has alleged that in addition to the $5,000 donation, Mr. Blanchet asked another senior engineer in the province in 2007 for a $25,000 donation to Ms. Marois’s PQ leadership campaign.
Radio-Canada’s source for the information on the $5,000 donation provided an account of his dealings with Mr. Blanchet to investigators and lawyers at the Charbonneau Commission during preliminary meetings.
“This [executive of an engineering firm] was at the heart of a system of illicit donations to political parties for a number of years,” said Radio-Canada’s submission to the press council. “In fact, according to a senior member of the Charbonneau Commission, this witness was one of the most credible he had met. … For reasons [the witness] doesn’t know, he was not asked about the events involving Claude Blanchet during his public appearance.”
The public broadcaster provided the information as part of the defence of its original story on the donations, which aired on March 31, 2014.
Ms. Marois and Mr. Blanchet denied any wrongdoing at the time, and the Conseil de Presse, acting on a complaint, launched a review. In its finding last month, the body ruled against Radio-Canada, accusing the news organization of “using unjustified complaints from an anonymous source and representing information in a biased way.”
Radio-Canada appealed the ruling, providing new information on its sources as part of its defence. In particular, the media organization said it had received permission from one of its sources to divulge the fact he had appeared in front of the Charbonneau Commission.
After the press council’s ruling, the PQ slammed Radio-Canada for its news report, which aired during last year’s provincial election.
“We are still asking for an apology for the damage inflicted upon Ms. Marois, Mr. Blanchet and the party,” PQ spokeswoman Antonine Yaccarini said on Tuesday.
The Charbonneau Commission’s final report will be released in November.Report Typo/Error