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Agents of the Royal Gendarmerie of Canada, carry boxes of documents from the home of Jacques Corriveau, Wednesday July 4, 2007, in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarvile, Que. Now 83 years old, Mr. Corriveau is scheduled to appear in a courtroom in Montreal on Tuesday, three years after the RCMP arrested him on charges of fraud, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime. (Francois Roy/CP)
Agents of the Royal Gendarmerie of Canada, carry boxes of documents from the home of Jacques Corriveau, Wednesday July 4, 2007, in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarvile, Que. Now 83 years old, Mr. Corriveau is scheduled to appear in a courtroom in Montreal on Tuesday, three years after the RCMP arrested him on charges of fraud, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime. (Francois Roy/CP)

Jacques Corriveau, ghost from Liberals’ sponsorship scandal, heads to trial Add to ...

Jacques Corriveau is a ghost of the Liberal past.

It has been 14 years since the Montreal-based designer was exposed in The Globe and Mail as a key player in the sponsorship program, and 11 years since the Gomery inquiry named him as “the central figure in an elaborate kickback scheme.”

Now 83 years old, Mr. Corriveau is scheduled to appear in a courtroom in Montreal on Tuesday, three years after the RCMP arrested him on charges of fraud, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime. The trial will centre around the fact Mr. Corriveau made $8-million for his role in the program that was designed to put up Canadian flags and symbols at various events in Quebec in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Still, there will be a broader narrative at play, as the six-week-long jury trial will offer a constant reminder of the Liberal Party of Canada’s troubled history.

The Liberals argue Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has turned the page on past scandals, making sure his Quebec team is mostly made up of people who were not in federal politics at the time of the sponsorship scandal.

After forming government, Mr. Trudeau and his closest advisers made a conscious decision to stay away from the “usual suspects” in Quebec Liberal circles, hiring mostly fresh faces to staff their ministerial offices. One senior Liberal said the party’s Quebec wing in the days of the sponsorship program “had become an electoral machine,” filled with guns-for-hire looking for jobs or contracts. These days, Mr. Trudeau seeks to surround himself with people who are “working for a cause,” focused on the Liberal agenda and movement.

Still, the cautionary tales continue to play out for Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals. Just last week, his party acknowledged it had recently reimbursed more than $100,000 in illegal donations received from Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin between 2004 and 2009.

Mr. Corriveau’s case offers a warning of what can happen when party supporters derive too much power because of their ties – real or perceived – to the prime minister.

Officially, Mr. Corriveau had no formal role in the sponsorship program. Unofficially, he was in constant communication with federal officials and advertising firms, using his contacts to collect hefty commissions on large and small sponsorships that were paid out by the department of Public Works in Ottawa.

Mr. Corriveau’s influence in Ottawa and Montreal came from his reputation as a close ally of then-prime minister Jean Chrétien, and a friend of the family who could be invited to sleep over at 24 Sussex.

“If you ever find somebody in bed between Jean Chrétien and his wife, it would be Jacques Corriveau,” Chuck Guité, the lead bureaucrat on the sponsorship program, said at the Gomery inquiry, attributing the comment to former Liberal minister David Dingwall.

Over all, Mr. Corriveau made $8-million in this capacity as a middleman, keeping some of the funds for himself and funnelling other amounts in hidden donations to the Liberal Party of Canada, according to the RCMP.

“It is alleged that the accused set up a kickback system on the contracts that were awarded in the Sponsorship Program,” the RCMP said in 2013. “Mr. Corriveau allegedly claimed that he could exercise influence on the Federal Government to facilitate the awarding of contracts to certain Quebec-based communication firms in return for several million dollars’ worth of advantages and/or benefits for himself and other persons.”

The sponsorship scandal had massive electoral repercussions for the Liberal Party, which was kept to a rump in Quebec in all general elections between 2004 and 2011.

Mr. Trudeau and his team, however, made a surprising surge in the province in the last weeks of the 2015 election, ending up with 40 of Quebec’s 78 seats. To this day, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals remain the dominant force in opinion polls in Quebec, hoping the ghosts of the sponsorship scandal are now behind them.

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