Kelly McParland: Corruption hearing portrays Quebec as a world of kickbacks and Liberal greed
The Quebec Liberal party may soon have to provide a new definition for the word “toast”, especially when used to describe its political future in the province.
Source: National Post
The corruption hearings going on in Montreal are offering all the allegations of law-breaking, bribery and double-dealing that many foresaw. If anything, the revelations are even more outlandish than expected. Tales of kickbacks, contract-rigging and political payoffs abound, all accompanied by the kind of colour and entertainment value you rarely get outside of Hollywood. No wonder Premier Jean Charest was willing to risk an election before any of this could be made public: The possibility of losing to Pauline Marois’s Parti Quebecois must have looked infinitely more attractive than trying to run a government in the face of public outrage over Liberal chicanery.
The latest to testify is former construction boss Lino Zambito, who has offered allegations on rampant kickbacks, Mafia ties and bid-rigging at the municipal level. This week he told the inquiry he organized fundraising dinners for the Liberals that funnelled tens of thousands of dollars into party coffers while skirting election laws that limit the size of individual donations.
In 2007, he says he was approached by someone in the entourage of then-cabinet minister David Whissell — who owned a family construction business and later left cabinet amid a conflict-of-interest controversy.
He says that person solicited a $50,000 cash payment to a Liberal fund in exchange for help with a business problem. He added that the person worked for a major engineering firm and, in a hint of testimony to come, Zambito has said such firms were instrumental in illegal campaign financing schemes
Zambito says the cash request was quickly withdrawn when he complained to a senior party figure, and his business problem was abruptly solved anyway.
According to Zambito, dealings with Liberal figures included dialogue that could have come straight out of The Sopranos and other gangster dramas.
He says the issue was resolved during a meeting with longtime Liberal power-broker Pierre Bibeau, who made a phone call to one of his sons who was the top official in Whissell’s office.
Zambito says he was thrilled.
“I said [to Pierre Bibeau]: ‘Is there anything I need to do?’ ” Zambito recalled.
“He told me, ‘Listen, it’s settled. Eventually, when I need you, I’ll call upon you. Consider this a favour.” ‘
Zambito has detailed how he’d get around donation limits by having donors write out a series of cheques below the legal limit, under the names of relatives, employees or friends. He said he sent Nathalie Normandeau, who was municipal affairs minister at the time, 40 roses on her 40th birthday, and paid for Normandeau to attend a Céline Dion concert in his corporate box at the Bell Centre, where Normandeau’s chief of staff allegedly asked if he could get tickets for an upcoming Madonna concert for the minister.
In earlier testimony, Zambito alleged that, for years, 3% of all the contracts he received from the City of Montreal went to the political party of Mayor Gerald Tremblay. One percentage point, he said, was known as “TPS”, or “Taxe Pour Surprenant” a play on the name of a now-retired local official.
“He picked the name himself,” Zambito said.
On Tuesday he described how construction companies would over-charge for work on provincial projects, submitting false invoices to engineering firms hired by the province.
The “extra” money is then divvied up, Zambito alleged, between the companies, the firms and, ultimately, the political parties. The money that flowed between those three levels was always “liquid,” Zambito said.
“Cash is always used for paying your cut,” he explained.
It’s all still allegations, but as riveting reading it’s hard to beat. Remember how upset Quebecers got when Maclean’s suggested in 2010 that the priovince was the most corrupt in Canada? The magazine was reprimanded by the Quebec Press Council, which charged that it had failed to prove its claim. It was accused of “Quebec-bashing.” Premier Jean Charest demanded an apology and denounced the article as a “twisted form of journalism and ignorance.”
Zambito must have been reading the magazine. Or maybe he just has a colourful and detailed imagination. Or maybe it’s ll true. Can’t wait for the next episode.