Quebec's minister for democratic institutions says he'll be meeting soon with Montreal's mayor to discuss overhauling municipal political-party financing in the wake of explosive revelations at the Charbonneau commission.
Bernard Drainville repeated on Friday that the Parti Québécois government is hoping to enact its campaign promise to reduce the maximum allowable political donation to any single provincial candidate or party to $100 from the current $1,000.
He said the government is also considering the same lower limit for donations to municipal candidates and parties, but first wants to consult with civic authorities.
"We're looking at it. We're assessing the feasibility of such a system at the municipal level," Drainville told CBC's French-language news service.
"But we're not going to propose anything without knowing how much it will cost, without knowing how it would work. And above all we're going to talk with municipal officials."
The minister said he would meet "as soon as possible" with Mayor Gérald Tremblay, who requested a tête-à-tête in the midst of the stunning admissions being made at Quebec's corruption inquiry.
Two witnesses in a row at the Charbonneau commission have testified to an entrenched system of kickbacks and collusion in the awarding of city and provincial construction contracts. The most recent, former senior city engineer Gilles Surprenant, confessed on Thursday that he accepted $600,000 in bribes from construction companies over 10 years, in exchange for doling out contracts to certain companies and other favours.
Before that, onetime construction mogul Lino Zambito said he paid a three per cent cut of the contracts his company received to Tremblay's political party. He also said he participated in schemes to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to the provincial Liberals.
Drainville said that those admissions floored him, and that he has already met with the mayors of Sherbrooke and Longueuil to hash out possible ways to reform municipal political financing.
Public financing from city coffers?
One issue that has to be resolved is whether and how municipal parties would get compensated for their loss of revenue if the donation cap drops significantly. The provincial government has no plan to provide the same subsidies to municipal parties that provincial ones get, Drainville said, so any public financing would have to come from city coffers.
"The mayors with whom I've had discussions understand very well that this kind of measure will have to be paid for out of municipal budgets. That's why we have to sit down with them.… The municipal governments need to be on board."
Drainville also cautioned that while reforming political finances will help, it can never eliminate graft outright.
"There will never be a law that can prevent someone who wants to corrupt someone else from doing it. I can't bring in legislation on human nature. I can't bring in a law that will make everyone honest," he said.
"Those who want to give suitcases of cash and those who want to receive them — it will always be possible. But we can tighten the current rules."