Arthur Porter has offered his friendship and political support to Philippe Couillard, but the endorsement from the controversial doctor and former hospital administrator quickly stoked renewed attacks against the Quebec Liberal Leader.
Dr. Porter, who faces fraud charges in Canada, is in a Panamanian jail fighting extradition procedures. In an interview with his biographer posted on the Internet, he praised Mr. Couillard, with whom he had planned to set up a health-care consulting firm in 2010.
"I do not believe in 'fair-weather' friendship," Dr. Porter told Jeff Todd, who wrote Dr. Porter's still unpublished memoirs. "Philippe and I knew each other very well. We spent time socially together. We felt it was important to have a good relationship because there were things we had to do on the work side. But we also genuinely liked each other and we spent quality time together."
Dr. Porter said the health-care consulting company he set up with Mr. Couillard never got off the ground. This is important for Mr. Couillard, a former neurosurgeon, who has taken hits in the campaign for his dealings with Dr. Porter.
"We were both finishing one career and looking for the next," Dr. Porter said of the plan. "So we put those things in process. We never activated the company, pending the fact I was still basically at the [McGill University Health Centre] and we wanted to wait until those strings were cut."
Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois called Dr. Porter's comments further proof of his close ties with Mr. Couillard.
"Birds of a feather flock together," she said. "Mr. Couillard has always tried to dissociate himself from Mr. Porter. We always had doubts. Now we understand that Mr. Couillard's friend wants to give him a hand."
Dr. Porter and five others are accused of plotting with executives of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. to use $22.5-million in company funds for international kickbacks in connection with construction of the $1.3-billion hospital. He has complained about his jail conditions in Panama and said that he has cancer.
Mr. Couillard did not comment on Wednesday. During a televised leaders' debate last week, the Liberal Leader denied that he was tainted by his dealings with Dr. Porter. He explained that the consulting firm never filed financial reports because it was never active.
"My program for Quebec isn't about mudslinging, it's about the economy," Mr. Couillard said.
Mr. Couillard said he is getting tired of the questions about his former friend.
"I won't even comment on it. I've answered the question for two years almost every day. I won't say I'm fed up, but almost," he told Quebec City radio station FM 93.
"I knew him, I had a friendship with him. That's not the question. The question is whether the fact I knew him allows people to associate me to the allegations against him. Of course the answer is no. But Ms. Marois is doing it again."
Mr. Couillard once told the CBC that, like many others, he might have been "fooled" by the worldly Dr. Porter, who was born in Sierra Leone and also worked in the United States and the Bahamas. Dr. Porter once benefited from a federal nomination as well, sitting on the Security Intelligence Review Committee at the same time as Mr. Couillard.
Dr. Porter said he wished the best to Mr. Couillard.
"I do think he would make a good first minister. One thing about Philippe is he is extremely intelligent, versatile and he has a good world understanding. He understands Quebec, Canada and the world," Dr. Porter said.
Mr. Todd said that the new website, which condemns Dr. Porter's current situation and advocates for his release, was set up by his family.
With a report from Rhéal Séguin