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Quebec parties slinging old mud ahead of final debate

Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault speaks at a news conference during a campaign stop in Montreal Wednesday, March 26, 2014.


The political parties competing to win Quebec's April 7 election have spent weeks tap dancing around issues of integrity. Suddenly in the past 24 hours, on the eve of the final leadership debate, the parties have tried lobbing ethical grenades at one another while newspapers chip in with stories that they bill as stunning revelations.

Much of the news is merely recycled noise. Here are some examples.

The Noise: The Parti Québécois filed a complaint with Quebec's chief electoral officer on Tuesday, asking for an investigation into Liberal fundraising. At issue: A Liberal event from within the last decade that allegedly raised $428,000 in unreported funds.

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The Reality: The fundraiser is already under criminal investigation and was revealed weeks ago. The complaint to the chief electoral officer was simply a tactic to remind voters.

The Noise: Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard has promised to publish the 2012 tax returns and list of assets belonging to him and his wife. He challenged the other leaders to do the same, which PQ Leader Pauline Marois quickly refused to do.

The Reality: "Show me the money" has become a standard campaign play used to try to embarrass the candidate with the biggest bank account. In this case, Ms. Marois's husband, Claude Blanchet, is a millionaire financier whose list of business dealings could probably fill a book. Mr. Couillard is trying to play on the discomfort some Quebeckers have with the rich among them. Their assets have already been revealed to the provincial ethics commissioner. The same ploy was used against the Liberals' then-leader Jean Charest in 2012.

The Noise: Quebec's anti-corruption squad is examining the daytimer of former premier Jean Charest as it looks into allegations of illegal financing by the Liberal Party of Quebec, the Journal de Montréal, owned by PQ candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau, reported in a front-page splash Wednesday morning.

The Reality: La Presse reported on Jean Charest's daytimer nearly a year ago. The investigation is ongoing.

The Noise: Quebec's anti-corruption squad is looking into allegations of illegal fundraising against the Parti Québécois.

The Reality: Months ago, evidence at the Charbonneau inquiry suggested every provincial party that existed in Quebec from 2000 to 2009 was engaged in illegal fundraising. That the police are following up is no surprise. The Liberal Party, which collected the most money by far in the era, has already had evidence seized from their headquarters.

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The Noise: The anti-corruption squad, known as UPAC, is holding off on executing search warrants or arresting people in cases related to political financing during the election campaign, raising cries that the police are pulling punches for political reasons.

The Reality: The Charbonneau corruption inquiry also suspended public hearings during the campaign. Both Charbonneau and UPAC would have been accused of political meddling had they made revelations or executed warrants on any of the parties during the campaign. It's a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

The Noise: Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault said the PQ, like the Liberals, used to have a fundraising quota for cabinet ministers. In the PQ's case, he said it was $80,000 per minister.

The Reality: There is nothing illegal about fundraising quotas, or "objectives," as Ms. Marois prefers to call them. Most parties have them.

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