Dozens of suspects accused of corruption at Quebec’s municipal and provincial levels have also been involved in national politics, giving more than $2-million in donations to federal parties, an investigation by The Canadian Press has revealed.
An analysis by The Canadian Press involving all 102 individuals charged after sweeps by Quebec’s anti-corruption police squad shows that nearly half – 45 of them – made registered legal contributions to federal parties from 1993 to 2011.
The actual extent of their connections to federal politics, however, may never be known.
An ongoing public inquiry in Quebec has heard explosive allegations about illegal political financing, bid-rigging, collusion and Mafia ties in the province’s construction industry, but it does not have a mandate to explore whether such activities have occurred in the federal realm.
At the inquiry, industry players have described using political donations to gain influence at the provincial level and help unlock public funding for projects that had frequently been rigged at the municipal level.
Which begs the question: Has this occurred elsewhere in Canadian politics?
There have been only glancing and peripheral references to federal politics at the inquiry, which resumed this week after a summer break.
But Elections Canada’s records do offer information on many of the 102 individuals charged following investigations by the province’s anti-corruption squad – a list of people that includes industry executives, engineers, city officials, municipal politicians and lawyers.
The Canadian Press examined their donation history as well as the federal contributions of all 13 companies charged by the same Quebec corruption-fighting unit, which was created in February 2011.
Records show that more than three-quarters of those companies – or 10 firms – gave federal political donations between 1993 and 2006. Corporate donations in Canadian politics were restricted in 2003 and banned entirely in 2006.
The analysis also counted donations to federal parties made by construction and engineering companies where some of the 102 individuals held powerful positions, such as owner or senior executive. The Elections Canada online database only goes as far back as 1993.
Altogether, the contributions from the individuals and the companies, which were amassed over two decades in more than 900 donations, totalled nearly $2.2-million.
A decade ago, Liberal cabinet minister Sheila Copps argued in favour of an outright ban on corporate political donations, saying it was necessary to keep companies from influencing government policy decisions.
Copps, who was Jean Chretien’s heritage minister at the time, said corporate pressure hindered the government’s efforts to implement key policies of the Kyoto environmental accord.
She suggested in an interview that construction industry players also curry favour with politicians in pursuit of their corporate interests.
“Engineering firms attach to political parties because they want infrastructure contracts – it’s not rocket science,” said Copps, who noted that the allegations heard at the Quebec inquiry aren’t restricted to that province.
“If you went in and did a Charbonneau (commission) in any part of the country, you’d probably find people that have had vacations ... and been greased by somebody for a contract.”
She said there’s nothing wrong with getting involved in politics, and promoting your cause. But she added that there should be sufficient, ongoing public oversight to ensure people aren’t taking illegal cuts of publicly funded contracts or receiving extravagant, under-the-table gifts.
When Copps was in cabinet, the Chretien Liberals placed limits on corporate donations in 2003. They were banned altogether by the Harper Tories in 2006, while individual donations were also capped at $1,100 annually.
The Canadian Press analysis revealed a precipitous plunge in donations in three stages: contributions from those now charged fell after the 2003 reform; fell again after the 2006 reform; and stayed low until they disappeared almost entirely after 2009, when the corruption scandals erupted in Quebec.
The Liberals, who held power from 1993 until 2006, received the most donations. Varying smaller amounts went to the old Progressive Conservatives, the Bloc Quebecois, the post-2003 Conservative party and its precursor parties, the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance and the Reform party.
Connections between Quebec scandals and the federal domain have been officially off-limits at the public inquiry, but they have still come up since proceedings began last year, usually in brief instances.
This week, a witness testified about an alleged collusion scheme in the Quebec City area where eight big construction companies conspired to drive up prices while Ottawa went on a historic multibillion-dollar infrastructure spending blitz after 2007.
Another allegation came from the lips of the then-vice-president of Dessau Inc., one of the largest engineering-construction firms in Canada.
Rosaire Sauriol explained during testimony how he used fake-billing schemes to pump $2-million from the company into the coffers of provincial and municipal parties.