Charest hurt by Quebec corruption
Jun 14, 2012 / 9:45 pm
A long-awaited Quebec public inquiry has made its first political dent in the Charest government, with a star witness Thursday offering a damning description of the attitude it held behind closed doors about fighting corruption.
There has been endless speculation that the Charest Liberals might rush into an election before the corruption inquiry got underway, so that they might face voters before sustaining any collateral damage from any bombshells dropped on the witness stand.
It could be getting late.
The government has already sustained its first nick. It came Thursday amid testimony from a prominent civil servant, a onetime federal official and Montreal police chief who most recently worked for the provincial government.
Jacques Duchesneau put an end to a political mystery that had captivated Quebecers: Who leaked that incendiary document to the media last fall?
It was a report he had authored, an internal study, not intended for public viewing, that spoke of a jaw-dropping volume of corruption in the construction industry, its ties to Mafia cash, and the illegal use of that cash to fund political parties.
The document created such public disgust that it finally forced Premier Jean Charest to relent, after two years of resistance, and call a public inquiry.
So who leaked the document? It turns out the author did it.
Duchesneau revealed himself as the man who transmitted his own report to select media, and he said he did it because the government clearly didn't care about its contents.
He testified that when he tried last year to brief his supervisor, the transport minister, about the findings of his investigation into the construction industry, the minister was coldly indifferent. Duchesneau had been hired by the Quebec government to look into the collusion allegations.
At one meeting, he said, then-transport minister Sam Hamad was staring out the window while he talked. He said the minister later refused to look at his report. He said Hamad wouldn't even physically touch the document with his hands, and promised his assistants would deal with it.
Hamad expressed disappointment at Duschesneau's recollection of events Thursday. He said there's proof the government cared about the document, and that proof is that it has acted on all 44 of the recommendations Duschesneau made.
Duchesneau has different memories of interactions with Hamad.
"If I start talking to you and you look outside to see if it's nice outside, it affects (my) concentration," Duchesneau said, describing a meeting with Hamad, during his second day of testimony.
He said he quickly concluded it wasn't even worth discussing one particular topic with Hamad, that of illegal political financing, which he said clearly bored the minister.
At one point, Duchesneau said he hadn't heard from his boss for a year. He said he joked to Hamad: "If you lost my phone number, somebody could have given it to you."
Duchesneau said he eventually realized he had only two options, leak the report, or watch it be ignored.
In the end, it wasn't ignored at all. It caused a media sensation, and such intense political pressure that within days Charest had called a public inquiry.
The report laid out an intricate financial web in which cash from crime groups like the Mafia was laundered in the construction industry, and that money wound up supporting political parties. It described an overworked civil service that couldn't handle the myriad schemes going on in the construction industry.
The inquiry will pause next week for its summer break, and it resumes in mid-September. There are also rumours Charest might call an election for mid-September. He was re-elected in late 2008 and his mandate expires at the end of 2013.
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