Quebec's two most-established political parties are hesitating about reimbursing ill-begotten cash, after the Charbonneau commission heard last week both the Liberals and the Parti Québécois received large illegal donations from engineering firms.

Quebec's chief electoral officer is opening an investigation in light of testimony from Rosaire Sauriol, who stepped down as vice-president of Dessau engineering Monday.  

He told the corruption inquiry political donations were a "cancer" that had spread throughout Quebec by 2009.

He said his firm funneled nearly $1 million in camouflaged corporate donations to the PQ and the Liberals over more than a decade, between 1998 and 2010.

"They won their elections with dirty money," Québec Solidaire leader Amir Khadir charged Tuesday. "They have to pay for that."

Khadir said the bigger parties always win, because deep pockets can pay for lots of billboards and other advertising.

However, both the Liberals and the governing PQ say they will wait until Quebec's chief electoral officer completes his investigation before they start reimbursing donations.

"Once this is completed, if any illegal action has been demonstrated, we will of course assume our complete responsibility," newly elected Liberal leader Philippe Couillard said.

"Of course, we will work with the Directeur-general des élections to try to find the sums and reimburse in an orderly fashion," echoed PQ cabinet minister Jean-François Lisée.

Move quickly, CAQ leader urges electoral watchdog

Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault repeated a promise made at the party's general council meeting last weekend, to make good on any illegal donations collected by the party that was folded into his in 2011, Action démocratique du Québec.

"We will reimburse all illegal amounts received by the ADQ, even if we are not morally attached to that," he said.

Legault called on the chief electoral officer to speed up its investigation and let all three parties know what they owe for donations made illegally.

However, Khadir worries the electoral watchdog doesn't have the power to dig deep enough to produce the evidence.

"They don't have the full judicial capacity to be intrusive in their inquiries when allegations of corruption in the financing of political parties are launched," Khadir said.

Khadir wants the auditor general and the provincial ombudsman to step in with court subpoenas, to start collecting hard evidence seek court subpoenas, and start collecting hard evidence  — to prove what the Charbonneau commission has heard from witnesses, that Quebec's most powerful parties have been on the take.