'Same old Liberal Party': Quebec opposition hammers Couillard over alleged real estate fraud
Parti Québécois, CAQ say allegations that key Liberal fundraisers pocketed cash show party hasn’t changed
Allegations that key fundraisers of the Quebec Liberal Party were involved in fraud through a series of real estate transactions is evidence that the party hasn't cleaned up its act, says Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée.
"Of course, this simply piles on another layer of allegations around financing of the Liberal Party and its principal players," Lisée said Thursday morning.
The Quebec Liberal Party has long been dogged by allegations of tight ties between fundraisers and government. In 2010, the government launched the Bastarache Commission after a former Liberal cabinet minister alleged fundraisers pressured him to appoint judges. In his report, Michel Bastarache concluded that was not the case.
Lisée was responding to a report from Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête.
The report alleged three party insiders may have received large sums of money through a series of real estate transactions, allegedly splitting that money with the former head of the provincial Crown corporation charged with managing those buildings (known by its former French acronym, the SIQ).
The SIQ's former president and director general, Marc-André Fortier, and three men well-known in provincial Liberal Party fundraising circles — William Bartlett, Franco Fava and Charles Rondeau — allegedly split close to $2 million deposited in accounts in Switzerland and the Bahamas.
Alleged fraudster worked for premier's campaign
Bartlett worked on Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard's campaign in 2007.
"I think it poses the greater question of why didn't Mr. Couillard, when he became leader of the Liberal Party, why didn't he clean house?" Lisée asked.
By not holding an internal investigation prior to taking office, the PQ leader said Couillard will continue to be haunted by his party's past.
François Legault, head of the Coalition Avenir Québec, echoed Lisée's remarks and singled out Couillard in particular.
"He's with the Liberal Party since 2003. So it's the same old Liberal Party again involved in a big corruption matter," he said.
The key players who spoke to Radio-Canada denied having received payments, and refused to answer many questions.
The investigation by Quebec's anti-corruption unit is all but complete and Crown prosecutors are reviewing the file. No one has been charged.
Government informed of investigation in 2012
Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao confirmed the government has been aware of an investigation into a possible fraud since 2012, but dodged questioning about how these allegations will affect public perception of his party.
"When police is investigating a possible fraud, I don't think it is desirable to make it public; you want to make sure you're able to investigate properly, to be able to catch the bad guys," he said.
Leitao said the structure of the SIQ has undergone an overhaul to prevent fraudulent behaviour.
Couillard reacted to the story Thursday evening during a Liberal event in the riding of Marie-Victorin, located in Longueuil, Que.
"I'm very sorry to hear such allegations," he said. "These events date from 10 years ago. Things have deeply changed both in our party and also in Quebec since that period."
"These elements in the Enquête story are now being investigated by UPAC. That's the right way to deal with these things. ... Let the institutions play their role and see what comes out of this."