Nathalie Normandeau: Rise and fall of a political star

Nathalie Normandeau's star shot into the Quebec political firmament — a mayor at 27, an MNA at 30, the deputy premier by 40. Her fall back to Earth has been just as remarkable.

Once touted as potential Liberal leader, Normandeau became 'radioactive' after she left politics

Nathalie Normandeau resigned from politics in 2011. (Canadian Press)

Nathalie Normandeau's star shot into the Quebec political firmament — a mayor at 27, an MNA at 30, the deputy premier by the time she was 40.

She had the ear of the former premier, Jean Charest, who handed her high-profile cabinet portfolios. She was often billed as a potential leader of the Quebec Liberals.

But her fall back to Earth has been just as remarkable. That descent hit a new low on Thursday, when investigators from the province's anti-corruption unit, UPAC, rang the doorbell of her Quebec City home, arrest warrants in hand.

Normandeau was charged on six counts, including conspiracy, corruption, breach of trust and bribery. If found guilty, she could face up to 12 years in prison.

Modest beginnings

Normandeau's beginnings were modest. She was born in Maria, Que., a municipality of about 2,500 people in the Gaspésie. Her father was a carpenter. 

As she finished her political science degree at Laval University, Normandeau moonlighted in the press office of premier Robert Bourassa. 

She returned to her hometown, where she was elected mayor in 1995. Three years later, Charest personally persuaded her to make the jump to provincial politics, when he left the leadership of the federal Conservatives to take over the Quebec Liberal Party.

Former premier Jean Charest considered Normandeau a 'loyal ally.' (Canadian Press)

Normandeau was made municipal affairs minister in 2005. In addition to that portfolio, Normandeau also served the Charest government as minister of natural resources and intergovernmental affairs. She was named deputy premier in 2007.

Most of the charges Normandeau faces cover the period from 2005 until 2012.   

According to publicly available court documents, investigators suspect Normandeau used her cabinet position to direct municipal contracts to engineering firms which made donations to the Liberal Party. 

Normandeau's resignation from politics in 2011 came as something of a surprise, although signs of strain were starting to show.

Her handling of the sensitive natural resources file was drawing criticism, and her love life also had begun to make headlines.

First there was a public breakup with François Bonnardel, a member of the rival Action démocratique du Québec, who is now finance critic for the Coalition Avenir Québec. 

Then there were reports she was dating former Montreal police chief ​Yvan Delorme, who was linked to the head of a private security firm who was later charged with fraud. 

It was, however, "personal reasons" that she cited when she left politics. 

Charest called her a "loyal ally" on the day she resigned.

"She has politics in her blood," he said.

Life after politics

Life after politics did not get easier for Normandeau. A profile in La Presse last year described her as being "radioactive" to former colleagues after stepping down.

Testimony before the Charbonneau commission, the wide-ranging public inquiry into corruption in Quebec's construction industry, cast a further shadow on Normandeau's time as municipal affairs minister.

A construction boss, Lino Zambito, told the commission that he sent Normandeau a bouquet of 40 roses for her 40th birthday. His other gifts included tickets to a Céline Dion concert at the Bell Centre.
Normandeau's lawyer has said she will plead not guilty to the charges. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Zambito's testimony linked Normandeau to a cash-for-contracts scheme in Boisbriand in which he pleaded guilty to fraud and corruption.

In the Charbonneau commission's 1,700-page final report, Normandeau's name was mentioned 175 times.

Normandeau had been trying to rehabilitate her reputation recently. She co-hosted a Quebec City radio show that had been proving popular with listeners in the provincial capital.

But within hours of being charged, Normandeau's name had been removed from the show's website, and she was suspended without pay.

Normandeau's lawyer, Maxime Roy, said she intends to plead not guilty to the charges.