The public inquiry into corruption has struck at the heart of the Quebec National Assembly for the first time as a sitting member was forced out of caucus over allegations of illegal funding practices.
Daniel Ratthé, the Coalition Avenir Québec member for the riding of Blainville, just north of Montreal, was suspended from his party caucus on Tuesday. Leader François Legault gave him the boot after it was learned Mr. Ratthé was indirectly tied to the illegal funding of his municipal party when he ran for mayor of Blainville in 2005 before entering provincial politics.
Two investigators from the Charbonneau commission met with Mr. Ratthé on Tuesday morning. They informed him that one of the next witnesses to appear before the inquiry would reveal that an "important" sum of cash was handed over to one of Mr. Ratthé's municipal party campaign organizers in 2005. The witness failed to appear for health reasons and his testimony is expected on Wednesday.
After meeting with the investigators, Mr. Ratthé informed Mr. Legault of the coming testimony. Without hesitating, the CAQ Leader suspended Mr. Ratthé from caucus until all embarrassing information regarding the illegal funding could be brought to light.
"There will be no tolerance when it comes to protecting the reputation of the CAQ and its elected members," Mr. Legault said. "We hope Mr. Ratthé can shed light on the financing of his mayoralty campaign and defend his integrity."
Mr. Ratthé insisted he knew nothing about any illegal financing activities that took place in the municipal campaign.
"I am a collateral victim for now," he said. "It was a shock for me. … I never received illegal money or illegal funds for that campaign or any other municipal campaign."
Former mayor of Blainville Pierre Gingras was recently named at the Charbonneau commission when two separate witnesses testified that they made cash payments to his party in return for municipal contracts. Mr. Gingras was later elected MNA for the Action démocratique du Québec party, which folded after merging with the CAQ.
After Mr. Gingras stepped down as mayor in 2005, he worked as a bagman for Mr. Ratthé's unsuccessful bid to replace him. Mr. Ratthé was then a Blainville city councillor and a member of Mr. Gingras's team. Mr. Ratthé remained vague on Tuesday in explaining his ties to Mr. Gingras.
"I have no personal relations with him. He is not a friend," he insisted.
This is the second time Mr. Ratthé has been kicked out of a caucus. In November, 2011, when he was sitting as a Parti Québécois MNA, Pauline Marois ordered him to leave the PQ caucus after he criticized her leadership on the sovereignty issue and threatened to join Mr. Legault's yet-to-be-founded party. Last September, Mr. Ratthé was re-elected to the National Assembly under the CAQ banner.