Premier Jean Charest wrapped himself and his government in the mantle of dogged crime-fighters in the face of mounting pressure to root out corruption in the province through a public inquiry.
Mr. Charest insisted Friday his government wouldn't change course despite the withering findings of a government-appointed probe that unearthed evidence of widespread collusion implicating the construction industry, civil servants and organized crime.
The probe's report, leaked to the media this week, has caused a furor in the province.
Mr. Charest, who called a press conference to respond to the report, admitted he hadn't read it.
But he expressed faith that the government's various efforts to tackle malfeasance would bear fruit, from reformed municipal-contract rules to the very anti-corruption squad that produced this week's report.
"No government before us ever did this much to fight corruption and collusion. … And we will continue," he said.
"It is the right choice and we're going to continue to pursue that with a great deal of determination."
Mr. Charest appeared at times to try to play down evidence of corruption, referring to "allegations" and "exaggerations," and denied the details contained in this week's report by former Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau would be damaging to the Liberals.
"We don't feel at all on the defensive," he said, flanked by two senior Quebec ministers.
Yet his government is facing growing public mistrust over its handling of ongoing disclosures of corruption; a Léger Marketing poll published in the wake of the Duchesneau report suggests over three quarters of Quebeckers want to see a public inquiry into construction-industry corruption. Mr. Charest's only solace is that 82 per cent of respondents told the pollsters they consider the problem to be entrenched in Quebec regardless of the party in power.
Still, the Premier is facing a growing political squall on the eve of the fall National Assembly session. Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois called for Mr. Charest's resignation and accused him of protecting criminals.
"He is protecting the Liberal Party. And by protecting the Liberal Party, Mr. Charest protects the Mafia and protects organized crime," Ms. Marois said.
Even as Mr. Charest was trying to play down the controversy, came news that Raynald Desjardins, a convicted mobster linked to the construction-industry scandals, had been caught in an exchange of gunshots outside Montreal.
Mr. Desjardins was in his SUV in the suburb of Laval Friday morning when a gunfight erupted with occupants of another car. Police could not immediately confirm more details but Mr. Desjardins is believed to have escaped unscathed or just lightly wounded.
He is the latest in a string of confidants and relatives of the embattled Montreal Mafia kingpin Vito Rizzuto to be targeted by gunmen.
Past court evidence has repeatedly linked Mr. Desjardins to drug-trafficking plots involving Mr. Rizzuto, identified in court documents as the godfather of the Montreal Mafia.
Despite the uproar over this week's report, Mr. Charest played down the impact of the findings. They wouldn't give the province a black eye and other jurisdictions, including New York, have tackled similar corruption problems, he said.
"This isn't unique to Quebec," Mr. Charest said. "This impression that we're the only ones that have this kind of issue is wrong. It exists elsewhere."