When former Justice Minister Marc Bellemare quit politics, Premier Jean Charest reminded him that he was sworn to secrecy and could not reveal any information about the role of party fundraisers in the nomination of judges and the handling of cash payments to the party, a commission of inquiry has heard.
Appearing for the second day before the Bastarache commission on the nomination process of judges in Quebec, Mr. Bellemare made more shocking allegations about Mr. Charest's ties with senior party fundraisers such as construction entrepreneur Franco Fava and accountant Charles Rondeau.
On Tuesday, the former minister said Mr. Charest supported party fundraisers who pressed Mr. Bellemare to name loyal Liberals to the bench. On Wednesday, he said that when he resigned, the Premier was adamant that he keep quiet about the nominations and the cash payments. The donations, which were considered illegal because they are untraceable, came mainly from Mr. Fava, one of the most important fundraisers in Quebec for the Liberals, Mr. Bellemare said.
"When I met Mr. Charest the day of my resignation [April 27, 2004] he reminded me that I had taken an oath of secrecy," Mr. Bellemare told the commission. "He was very nervous, saying: 'You know you swore an oath as a minister. Fava, Rondeau, the judges, the money; you don't have the right to talk about that. You took an oath.'"
Mr. Bellemare said he assured Mr. Charest that he was not out to get him. "I have no intention of conducting a vendetta or a political war or take revenge whatsoever. And I can assure you of that," Mr. Bellemare said he told Mr. Charest.
Yet Mr. Bellemare made allegations last April of potential influence peddling in the appointment of judges, triggering a political storm that drove Premier Charest to appoint the commission of inquiry headed by former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache.
The commission's lead lawyer, Giuseppe Battista, asked Mr. Bellemare why he waited six years to denounce the "undue influence" of party fundraisers.
Mr. Bellemare said the Premier and former House leader Jacques Dupuis have only themselves to blame. The province, he explained, was facing allegations of corruption, influence peddling and cronyism involving the construction industry and donors to the Quebec Liberal Party.
In March, 2010, after a reporter asked him what he thought of Mr. Charest's refusal to hold a public inquiry into the construction industry, Mr. Bellemare said that the Liberals were too closely tied to construction entrepreneurs who were financing the party. And the Liberals, he added, were eager to keep peace with the Quebec Federation of Labour, which didn't want an inquiry.
Government lawyer Suzanne Côté objected each time Mr. Bellemare tried to link alleged irregularities in the nomination of judges to the construction industry scandal, saying the testimony was reaching beyond the commission's mandate.
But the former minister was allowed to continue with his testimony that, in March, 2010, Mr. Charest "falsely" said Mr. Bellemare had never raised the issue of irregular party financing while in office. "I was completely staggered by the comments,' Mr. Bellemare told the commission. "He [Mr. Charest]attacked my credibility in a significant way. … And at that moment I decided to speak out."
Mr. Bellemare said he would otherwise have kept quiet. "I never criticized the process of naming judges. The system has its virtues," Mr. Bellemare said.
Three judicial appointments are now at the heart of the Bastarache inquiry.
One of them, Line Gosselin-Després, the cousin of former labour minister Michel Després, was appointed to the juvenile division of the Quebec Court after Mr. Fava intervened on her behalf, Mr. Bellemare stated.
He said Ms. Gosselin-Després was "chosen" by Mr. Charest on Jan. 8, 2004, three weeks before potential candidates had a chance to be interviewed.
Mr. Bellemare is expected to face cross-examination on Monday.