A new report alleges that Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois's husband, Claude Blanchet, raised thousands of dollars as part of a financing scheme for his wife's leadership campaign.
According to the Radio-Canada report, Mr. Blanchet contacted engineering firms in 2007 and 2008 for contributions to fund his wife's political campaigns. Mr. Blanchet did nothing illegal in soliciting campaign funds. However, questions were raised about whether the names of individual donors were used to hide company contributions to the party. Quebec election law prohibits organizations such as companies and unions from contributing to political parties.
Ms. Marois firmly rejected the allegations. "The Parti Québécois has always rigorously abided by the law on the financing of political parties. My husband has as well," she said in a brief statement after the story broke early Monday evening.
In an affidavit dated March 25, a businessman whom Radio-Canada did not name stated that in the spring of 2007, Mr. Blanchet met him to solicit $25,000 in political contributions. Former PQ leader André Boisclair had just quit politics.
"This is an anonymous affidavit coming a few days before an election. That doesn't smell right," Ms. Marois told reporters.
Ms. Marois acknowledged that her husband has in the past raised money for the PQ, but always kept to the law.
"I completely deny the information and so does my husband," she said.
According to the news report, the businessman raised money from employees in his organization. Each employee gave the maximum allowable contribution of $3,000 under the party's leadership-financing rules. At the time the Quebec Election law also allowed for a maximum contribution of $3,000 per individual to a political party. The money was allegedly raised by Mr. Blanchet raised for Ms. Marois's 2007 leadership bid.
A few days later the businessman said in the Radio-Canada news report that he handed Mr. Blanchet a number of $3,000 cheques totalling $25,000. He stated in the report that he gave the cheques to gain privileged access to Ms. Marois.
In a telephone conversation, the anonymous businessman said he contributed funds to both the PQ and the Liberals over the years. "You don't go see a head of a company and ask him for money thinking that it will come out of his pocket," the businessman said in the news report, suggesting that the company used the names of employees to hide its political contributions.
Through his lawyer Richard Vachon, Mr. Blanchet firmly denied meeting a businessman to solicit campaign funds, and also denied collecting a total of $25,000 in contributions.
"At no time in 2007 did our client attempt to obtain political funding for the PQ leadership campaign," Mr. Vachon wrote in a press release on Monday. "Our client never attempted to raise $25,000 nor was a payment of several cheques ever made." Mr. Vachon questioned the credibility of the businessman who has taken seven years to come forward, and warned of the libellous nature of the information about Mr. Blanchet.
Most of the $123,000 collected by Ms. Marois during the leadership campaign came from engineering firms. The report quotes the head of another engineering firm who said he was approached by Mr. Blanchet in 2008 to help fund the PQ election campaign. The anonymous businessman is quoted as saying he gave $5,000 to the PQ campaign and was reimbursed by his company.
During the election campaign Ms. Marois has repeatedly said that the PQ was never involved in illegal campaign-funding schemes.
The Charbonneau Commission, which has suspended hearings until after the election April 7, has yet to probe the awarding of provincial government contracts and the financing of provincial political parties. The inquiry is expected to tackle these issue in the coming weeks.
Testimony and wiretaps heard at the commission revealed illegal schemes that involved kickbacks and collusion at the municipal level that included several engineering firms in the province. Testimony by the former president of the Quebec Federation of Labour, Michel Arsenault, showed that the QFL Solidarity Fund invested in one of Mr. Blanchet's companies in a bid to influence Ms. Marois to oppose a public inquiry into corruption in the province. Ms. Marois said no such influence ever existed, adding that her party was one of the strongest proponents of a public inquiry.
Meanwhile, the PQ has vowed for the first time to use the notwithstanding clause to protect its secular charter from legal challenges, hoping to attract francophone voters in the final days of the campaign with a reinvigorated plan to restrict the visibility of religious symbols in the province.
Until now, Ms. Marois and her ministers had always said they were confident that their proposal respected the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.