It's become a nasty saga replete with allegations of influence peddling, reports of police surveillance, and two former allies-turned-adversaries. And on Thursday, Quebec's summertime political potboiler took another surprising twist.
Former justice minister Marc Bellemare, who set off a firestorm with allegations of political interference in the nomination of judges in the province, made an abrupt about-face and agreed to testify before a provincial commission set up to probe his charges.
He had been on a campaign to torpedo the inquiry, labelling it a "trap for fools." His explosive allegations set him on a collision course with his former boss, Liberal Premier Jean Charest, under whom he served as justice minister from 2003 to 2004.
Mr. Bellemare refused to testify before the commission into judicial nominations, saying that the probe headed by retired Supreme Court judge Michel Bastarache was tilted to favour Mr. Charest.
But in an apparent change of heart, Mr. Bellemare appeared outside the Montreal courthouse on Thursday afternoon to announce that while he still considered the inquiry a "costly and useless exercise," he would show up to testify when it gets under way Aug. 24.
The switch followed an agreement guaranteeing his testimony would be broadcast, Mr. Bellemare said. He read his brief statement and walked away without taking questions from reporters.
The move hardly ends the acrimonious set-to between Mr. Bellemare and Mr. Charest, which has unfolded over the summer with at times bizarre disclosures.
This week, it was reported that Mr. Bellemare had been tailed for several days by the Quebec provincial police after he'd made his allegations in April. The reports, he said during his press scrum on Thursday, have placed him and his family under additional stress.
Mr. Bellemare has also been in court in Quebec City this week in a bid to halt the commission, taking shots at his former boss along the way. On Tuesday, he said the Premier set the probe up as an act of revenge. He has also questioned the impartiality of Mr. Bastarache.
A lawyer for the commission, meanwhile, retorted that Mr. Bellemare appeared to be suffering from a "feverish imagination," according to news accounts. The Superior Court judge hearing the case was expected to rule next week.
The dispute is proceeding on several fronts. Mr. Charest is suing his former justice minister for libel in a $700,000 civil suit filed after Mr. Bellemare refused to withdraw allegations that Mr. Charest knew that Liberal Party donors had sway over the selection of judges.
Mr. Bellemare has also tried to avoid appearing before Quebec's Chief Electoral Officer, who subpoenaed him to address his allegations; Mr. Bellemare lost that case in Quebec Superior Court last month and is appealing.Report Typo/Error