A designer by trade, Jacques Corriveau portrayed himself as a philanthropist and cosmopolitan arts lover. He knew about the Bauhaus architecture school. He had worked and travelled in Iran during the rule of the country’s last Shah. He enjoyed opera, ballet and theatre.
But he became known across Canada as a disgraced political insider, a pivotal character in a tale of corruption, greed and influence-peddling that helped end more than 12 years of Liberal government in Ottawa.
A one-time friend of Jean Chrétien, Mr. Corriveau was a key figure in the sponsorship scandal, also known as Adscam, in which a handful of well-connected Quebec businessmen did little work in return for millions of dollars in federal contracts, then kicked back some of the money to the Liberal Party of Canada.
Exposed by reporting in The Globe and Mail and other media, the scandal gained even more prominence during a public inquiry headed by Judge John Gomery, with daily, explosive testimony about political bag men, cash-stuffed envelopes and fake invoices.
In parallel with the inquiry, the RCMP investigated. In 2013, after an 11-year probe, the Mounties charged Mr. Corriveau with influence peddling, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime.
Mr. Corriveau was in the midst of appealing his conviction on those charges when he died on June 23.
Mr. Corriveau’s funeral took place on July 14, but his death had not been made public at the request of the family, according to his lawyer, Gérald Soulière, who confirmed the news first reported on Friday by Journal de Montréal.
The cause of death of the 85-year-old Mr. Corriveau was not disclosed.
Mr. Corriveau had often cited poor health when he was under judicial scrutiny. When he was called as a witness at the Gomery inquiry in 2005, Mr. Corriveau, who was then 72, said he couldn’t remember key events, citing his age, medication and anesthesia from a surgical operation.
More than a decade later, at his trial, he also mentioned his poor health when he sought to have the case thrown out because of court delays.
The judge didn’t buy that claim. “The court was able to see that at 83 he still retains a shape, balance, spriteness, verve and eloquence that would be the envy of much younger people,” Superior Court Justice Jean-François Buffoni said.
Instead, the judge ruled that despite his age, Mr. Corriveau deserved a four-year prison sentence because he had been involved in a lengthy, complex fraud scheme.
“The accused crafted a relatively sophisticated system involving the writing and signing of 14 fake contracts and the issuance of 265 fake invoices,” the judge wrote in his decision.
The 2005 public inquiry chaired by Judge John Gomery similarly concluded that Mr. Corriveau was at the heart of a kickback system.
While Mr. Corriveau held no official position, he was "invariably perceived by others as a person of substantial influence within the Liberal Party of Canada,” the Gomery report also said.
Chuck Guité, the bureaucrat in charge of the sponsorship program, told the inquiry that David Dingwall, then public works minister, told him that Mr. Corriveau was a very close friend of the prime minister and that he had to “look after this guy.”
Mr. Guité said the minister than joked that “if ever you find somebody in bed between Jean Chrétien and his wife, it will be Jacques Corriveau.”
Mr. Chrétien himself acknowledged that Mr. Corriveau was a good friend and long-time loyalist.
Joseph Léger Louis Jacques Corriveau was born on March 11, 1933, the sixth of seven siblings – five boys and two girls. He grew up in Montmagny, a scenic town 50 kilometres downriver from Quebec City.
His parents, Albert and Alma Corriveau, came from local farming families. His father was a bank accountant who rose to become a branch manager.
After graduating from Montreal's École des beaux-arts, where he studied interior decorating, Mr. Corriveau attended the New York School of Interior Design in 1955.
Back in Quebec, he worked as a designer for a furniture retailer then got a contract to set up the interior of some pavilions at Expo 67. He founded his own firm and handled the furnishing for the athletes' village when Montreal hosted the Summer Olympics in 1976.
He also was active as a federal Liberal. Living in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, on the South Shore of Montreal, he was a riding association president.
In 1984, after Pierre Trudeau quit politics, Mr. Corriveau was a supporter and organizer for the leadership bid that Mr. Chrétien lost to John Turner. Two years later, as a party vice-president, Mr. Corriveau was part of a failed backroom plot to challenge Mr. Turner’s leadership.
Mr. Corriveau’s design firm employed Mr. Chrétien’s son, Michel. When Michel Chrétien was convicted of sexual assault in 1992, Mr. Corriveau testified as a character witness for the defence, telling the court that the accused was a talented, exemplary employee.
By then, Mr. Chrétien was Liberal leader and would become prime minister in 1993. During federal elections, Mr. Corriveau’s firm would get contracts to print outdoor signs and billboards for the party’s candidates in Quebec.
“When fortune smiles on you, you don’t turn it down,” Mr. Corriveau would later say at the Gomery inquiry when asked how things got better once the Liberals were in power.
The sponsorship program was born the year after the federalists nearly lost the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty. At a special meeting, the Chrétien cabinet decided that, among measures needed to counter the separatist movement, the federal presence needed to be increased in Quebec through the use of ads and event sponsorships.
One of the ad executives who received sponsorship money, Jean Brault, testified that among business people trying to get public contracts, Mr. Corriveau was known as a political fixer. He recalled an evening with fellow businessmen where, following after-dinner ports and brandies, he received advice from Jacques Olivier, who had been a Trudeau-era cabinet minister.
“Stick close to Corriveau, it’ll open doors for you,” Mr. Brault said Mr. Olivier told him.
He said Mr. Corriveau got him to make disguised donations to the party, using fake invoices, and to keep party organizers on his payroll as a favour.
The biggest share of the sponsorship money, more than $40-million, was doled out to Polygone, a Montreal company that staged hunting-and-fishing shows and produced magazines and broadcast programs about the outdoors.
By his own admission, Mr. Corriveau was the person who told Mr. Guité, the bureaucrat who ran the sponsorship program, about the merit of trade shows, rural-radio ads and almanacs to reach audiences in outlying regions of Quebec.
Mr. Corriveau’s graphics company, Pluri Design Canada Inc., made nearly $7-million in subcontracts from companies such as Polygone. However, the Gomery inquiry heard that little work was actually done.
One bill showed that Mr. Corriveau charged $35,000 to surf government websites and save and laser-print some of those Internet pages.
On other invoices, he charged professional fees to rearrange exhibit spaces at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, when in fact the events took place in shopping malls and hockey rinks in hinterland towns such as Trois-Rivières, Rimouski and Chicoutimi.
“A typo,” he said tersely when his copy-and-paste invoicing was shown to him at the inquiry.
He also tried to minimize his ties to Mr. Chrétien. “A close friend, you see him 10 to 15 times a year, not twice,” he said when he was asked about the time he stayed at the prime minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive.
Part of the money he received from the public contracts cycled back to the party, the inquiry heard. Michel Béliveau, who was director-general of the Liberal Party’s Quebec wing from 1996 to 1998, testified that he received unreported cash from Mr. Corriveau to pay for election campaign expenses.
Mr. Béliveau said that while the two were alone at the party’s Montreal offices, Mr. Corriveau handed him about $100,000 in an envelope that held $100 and $20 bills.
Another former Quebec wing director-general, Daniel Dezainde, testified that in the summer of 2001 he was lunching with Mr. Corriveau at Montreal’s famous Magnan’s Tavern when the latter told him, “I set up a system where I got kickbacks on the commissions from communications agencies and I kept a part for my expenses and I made the rest available to the party.”
Mr. Corriveau denied all the allegations, but when Judge Gomery wrote his report in 2005, he said that “the venality of the scheme makes Mr. Corriveau’s participation particularly blameworthy.”
Although the RCMP executed a search warrant at Mr. Corriveau’s house in 2007, he was not charged until 2013. He had to sell his piano, his Lexus car and his late wife’s jewels, according to a Radio-Canada report, because many of his assets were seized as suspected proceeds of crime.
He did not serve his four-year sentence, however, being released after a few hours while he appealed his conviction. He also did not pay the $1.4-million fine imposed in his sentence.
Names of who he leaves were not immediately available.