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Backed into corner, Charest to order corruption probe

The Premier of Quebec Jean Charest speaks during a press conference at the Hotel Matignon in Paris, on October 5, 2011.


After a day marked by confusion and unanswered questions, Quebec Liberals finally confirmed that the government will announce an inquiry into corruption in the construction industry on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Premier Jean Charest explained the broad strokes of his plan to caucus members, who were under strict orders to reveal nothing to the public.

The government's deputy house leader Henri-François Gautrin said an announcement would be made after the plan is approved at Wednesday's weekly cabinet meeting. But despite a grilling by reporters, he would not say what the announcement will reveal.

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"I won't tell you that," Mr. Gautrin said. "It's not my job to tell you that."

Facing tough questions from the opposition parties in the National Assembly who demanded to know if an independent public inquiry will be held, Mr. Charest refused to give any information about his plan. He remained coy as he repeated that three criteria need to be met before a probe can be held: It must protect the evidence, ensure the integrity of the police investigation and respect the reputation of innocent victims.

"We will do our work so that there will be no improvisation, that things will be done in order and when we will have done this the government will make an announcement," Mr. Charest said in the National Assembly.

The government has been struggling to devise a plan ever since last month's devastating report from the head of the anti-collusion squad, Jacques Duchesneau, who described a well-established system of collusion and corruption in the construction industry.

The Duchesneau report has forced the hand of the Premier, who must now consider the political consequences that the revelations made at an inquiry may have on his government and the Liberal party.

Doing nothing has also exacted a heavy political price. Mr. Charest was coming under repeated attacks from within his own party for failing to meet Quebeckers' demands for a public inquiry.

In recent weeks, several party members have quit positions on local riding association executives. Some have even joined the ranks of a new coalition headed by a former Parti Québécois minister, François Legault, who plans to launch a political party soon.

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With a Liberal convention beginning on Friday, Mr. Charest was being urged to deal with the dissent before more defections further jeopardized his leadership.

But it already appears to be too late for the Liberals to avoid political damage. A public opinion poll by Léger Marketing published Tuesday by Le Devoir and the Montreal Gazette shows the government's approval rating at less than 30 per cent. And more than three out of four Quebeckers demand that Mr. Charest hold a public inquiry, the poll reveals.

If an election were held now, Mr. Legault's yet-to-be-formed political party would sweep the province and decimate his opponents, the poll shows. Mr. Legault would receive 36 per cent of the vote, compared with 22 per cent for the Liberals and 18 per cent for the Parti Québécois, according to the poll.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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