Weeks after the long-time mayor of Laval was hauled away in handcuffs after resigning in disgrace, his replacement is being implicated in a scheme to disguise illegal political financing.
Jean Bertrand, the official agent for the party that ruled the Quebec town for decades, says Laval Mayor Alexandre Duplessis joined nearly every other city councillor in accepting cash reimbursements from engineering companies. The councillors or their family members would then write their own cheques to parties to give the donations the appearance of legitimacy. Corporations are banned from making political donations.
Mr. Bertrand, who is facing criminal charges for fraud and corruption, said as much as $60,000 a year in donations was disguised from 1995 to 2010. The scheme started before that period, he testified Thursday before the Charbonneau commission, but previous years are beyond the mandate of the inquiry examining political corruption involving the province's construction industry.
After months of testimony that has revealed the astonishing depth and breadth of corruption in municipal politics in the Montreal area, Mr. Bertrand revealed a new level. The inundation was so complete that nearly every player in Laval municipal politics over the past 25-plus years helped disguise illegal donation schemes while cashing in on juicy tax breaks for the donations, he said.
"I would tell them it was illegal. They knew it was illegal," he said, adding that the councillors went ahead anyway. He could only list three councillors who did not take part in the scheme over 15 years. Laval city council seats 21 representatives in addition to the mayor.
Mr. Duplessis, who was named mayor by his fellow councillors on Nov. 23, 2012, launched a legal action last week to try to adjourn the Charbonneau commission. Earlier this month, the mayor's office was raided – now a monthly occurrence at Laval City Hall.
Mr. Duplessis, who planned to run in the fall election, issued a statement late Thursday afternoon saying he is co-operating with police investigators and will make no further statement.
"It's unbelievable. This is very serious, and what's worse is that these people are running in the next election," said Robert Bordeleau, the leader of Laval's unelected opposition, the Parti au Service du Citoyen, which he founded in 2006 to denounce corruption.
"If they had any honour, they would all resign."
Gilles Vaillancourt, who resigned last fall after 23 years as mayor and is facing criminal prosecution for a host of other kickback, bribery and illegal financing schemes, did not take part in this one, Mr. Bertrand said. But, he added, Mr. Vaillancourt knew about it. "Not much happened that he didn't know about."
Mr. Bertrand said the fundraising practice was not unique to municipal politics or his party, the PRO des Lavallois. The long-time Parti Québécois activist said he has a "friend in the PQ who did it in industrial quantities."
Liberals have also been implicated in shady financing that used money from construction companies and included the practice of straw-men donations.
Mr. Bertrand took pains to describe the local politicians who took part in the scheme as "honest people, good people," but he explained that corrupt financing schemes were part of doing politics in Quebec.
The Charbonneau commission resumes hearing evidence on June 10.