The Bloc Québécois has written Elections Canada demanding an investigation into political donations made to Conservative candidate Michel-Eric Castonguay in the 2011 federal election after CBC News yesterday revealed 12 executives from engineering giant SNC-Lavalin — and two of their wives — donated a total of $14,900 just two days before Canadians went to the polls.
"What is the link between those people [in Montreal] and this candidate in Montmorency?" asked Bloc Leader Daniel Paillé. "We have to make an inquiry about that. Is it ethical?"
In the letter to Elections Canada shared with CBC News, the Bloc’s André Bellavance expressed concerns about donations made to Conservatives in two other ridings, Laurier-Sainte-Marie in 2009 and Rivière-des-Milles-Îles in 2008.
Last November, Postmedia News investigated a series of donations made to the Conservative riding association of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, in downtown Montreal. They reported a dozen donors — tied to a total contribution of $14,333.19 accrued between 2006 and 2009 — had claimed they were not responsible for the donations.
The Bloc's letter also states concerns that in 2008, in little less than a month, the Conservatives amassed almost $90,000 for candidate Claude Carignan, in the Rivière-des-Milles-Îles riding. Bellavance writes that according to records, this sum was collected from a number of individuals who have since been accused of electoral fraud at the Charbonneau inquiry, which is looking into corruption in Quebec's construction industry.
The Canada Elections Act was changed in 2006 to prohibit corporate donations.
Earlier this week, SNC-Lavalin claimed the executives who donated to Castonguay did so of their "own volition" and were not reimbursed. A spokesperson said the fact that all donations but one were for the same amount, $1,100, and that all were filed on the same day, is just a coincidence.
'We are concerned that those donations might be a scheme, the scheme that we saw at the municipal level or the provincial level might exist at the federal level too.' —Alexandre Boulerice, NDP MP for Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie
But the company today would not answer questions about whether the donations were orchestrated by someone within SNC-Lavalin. SNC-Lavalin spokesperson Leslie Quinton issued a statement instead saying "The contributions ... are, to our knowledge, made by employees at their own volition and were not reimbursed. Because these are personal donations and not those of the company, there is nothing we can add to this."
Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission, an inquiry into corruption in the province’s construction industry, heard from SNC-Lavalin executive Yves Cadotte within the last week. Cadotte testified that the company had a pattern of reimbursing executives through bonuses for provincial and municipal political contributions.
"It’s more than troubling," said the NDP’s Alexandre Boulerice, MP for Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie. "We are concerned that those donations might be a scheme, the scheme that we saw at the municipal level or the provincial level might exist at the federal level too.
"We have to shine a light on those dark areas."
During Tuesday’s question period, the NDP grilled the Tories about another Quebec riding where executives from SNC-Lavalin gave political contributions. Elections Canada records show that in 2009, seven SNC executives and six of their wives donated a total of $14,100 to the Conservative Party’s Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier Riding Association. The riding, located on the outskirts of Quebec City, has had no Conservative candidate in the last two federal elections.
American regulations are more transparent
Tyler Sommers, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, a non-profit that advocates for open and more accountable government, told CBC News that Ottawa should implement laws that are more explicit, such as those in the United States.
"In the U.S. you are required to state who your employer is and what your associations are, and that can be helpful to elections agencies because it will help them identify these patterns," said Sommers.
"It'll help them to ensure that when they see a wave of people donating from the same company, perhaps for the same amount or in a very limited time frame at the very least, they fully look into those situations to ensure the Elections Act or provincial election acts are being followed."
Sommers is also advocating smaller limits, such as the $100 personal contribution cap permitted in Quebec's provincial elections, which ensures that firms attempting to co-ordinate employees to contribute wouldn’t be able to raise significant amounts.