CAQ's star candidate sparks fuss over corruption inquiry

A war of words between the CAQ's corruption-fighting star candidate and the lead prosecutor of the Charbonneau Commission has stirred up fiery debate on the campaign trail.

Jacques Duchesneau's spat with Charbonneau commission lawyer draws in party leaders

Jacques Duchesneau was grilled by political party lawyers at Quebec's Charbonneau inquiry in June, more than a month before he became a candidate for the CAQ.

A war of words between the CAQ's corruption-fighting star candidate and the lead prosecutor of the Charbonneau Commission has stirred up fiery debate on the campaign trail.

It all started when Jacques Duchesneau, the Coalition Avenir Québec's highest-profile recruit so far and the former head of Quebec's anti-collusion squad, told a newspaper this week that he wasn't able to get his point across when he testified for five days in June at the commission — the very public inquiry some credit him with triggering with his report last fall into corruption in Quebec's construction industry.

Duchesneau said lawyers asked too many "simplistic" questions that were a waste of time.

The Charbonneau Commission's lead counsel, Sylvain Lussier, retorted Tuesday that Duchesneau had all the time he needed and, "isn't necessarily a witness who's easy to control."

That then prompted CAQ Leader François Legault to weigh in, saying that Lussier should not be speaking publicly during an election campaign.

"I cannot accept that, in the middle of an electoral campaign, that you have somebody who is supposed to be independent is saying things like that," Legault said.

Now the other party leaders are having their say, attacking Legault for criticizing the Charbonneau Commission's lawyer.

"In trying to discredit the commission, François Legault is demonstrating that he doesn't have the good judgment needed to be premier of Quebec," Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois said.

"He's calling into question a commission that all Quebecers wanted so much," she said Wednesday.

Liberal Leader Jean Charest added, also in French, that the independence of the commission headed by Quebec Superior Court Judge France Charbonneau "must be respected."

Legault then appeared to tone down his words somewhat on Wednesday, following clarifications by Lussier the night before in an interview on Radio-Canada. Lussier said that he has never expressed or believed that Duchesneau's testimony was evasive, and that as lead counsel he was satisfied with the CAQ candidate's testimony. Legault responded that he was content, reiterating his confidence in Lussier and the Charbonneau Commission.

Known for blunt talk

The brouhaha isn't the first of the campaign touched off by Duchesneau in his brief time on the hustings.

After being introduced Sunday as the CAQ's election candidate in the Laurentians riding of St-Jérôme, Duchesneau declared Monday morning that Legault had promised to name him deputy premier — and that he'd be no ordinary deputy, but one mandated with the power to choose key cabinet ministers.

Legault had to clarify that, while he has indeed promised Duchesneau the deputy premier's job, it would not come with extra powers to name key ministers.

Duchesneau is known for his no-nonsense approach, though some question how his predilection for blunt pronouncements will fare on the campaign trail.

The former Montreal police chief and mayoral candidate was hired by the Liberal government to look into corruption and collusion in the awarding of public-works contracts, but he then leaked his report last fall and was fired the next month.

The report described the province's roadwork industry as rife with underground deals and tied to organized crime.

It said it's routine for consulting engineering firms to inflate estimates for projects and for entrepreneurs to go over budget.

The Charbonneau Commission, which got underway in May, is looking into those allegations and others. It is on break for the summer and will resume hearings in mid-September, after the provincial election.