Liberals deny latest allegations from Lino Zambito
Published Wednesday, October 10, 2012 2:19PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 11, 2012 7:15AM EDT
Denials, dismissals, and displays of outrage.
That's the response from many members of the Liberal party, both past and present, to the latest allegations of corruption to come out of the Charbonneau Commission.
In testimony that was kept secret under a publication ban which was only recently lifted, former construction company owner Lino Zambito identified several figures of the provincial Liberal party as being up to somewhat shady fundraising practices, including demanding cash donations far in excess of the legal limit of $3,000.
Appearing in front of the Charbonneau Inquiry into collusion, Zambito said that in an attempt to win a government contract, he was asked to donate $50,000 to then-Labour minister David Whissell's campaign fund.
In response Whissell said that Zambito's allegations were unfounded.
"I never heard a word about this story, about $50,000. Never," said Whissell.
"I talked with my chief of staff, Alexander Bibeau at the time. He never heard about that. And I talked with Christian Cote yesterday night and he never heard about this story. So I don't believe Mr. Zambito."
Whissell not only denied the claim that a member of his entourage solicited an illegal $50,000 cash donation from Zambito -- an allegation he called unrelated to reality.
He also questioned Zambito's credibility after his own testimony in recent days implicated him in collusion and bid-rigging schemes.
"I want to remind you that Mr. Zambito is someone who has been arrested, who is charged with crimes, who is seen on video giving money to the Mafia, who pressured municipal officials," Whissell told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview.
"He's someone who is a criminal and I think we're too easily taking his words to be the truth."
Zambito has testified that a cartel of construction companies conspired to drive up the cost of public contracts and split the profits with the Mob, the City of Montreal's ruling party, and corrupt officials. None of those allegations before the inquiry have been proven in court.
Zambito has pleaded guilty to electoral fraud, paid a $1,000 fine and lost the right to vote in municipal and provincial elections for five years.
He also faces charges in connection with a bid his company made for a $28 million water purification plant in Boisbriand.
Whissell was the MNA for the riding of Argenteuil for 14, resigning in 2011.
He left a cabinet post in 2009 because he did not want to give up his role in his family's asphalt business, ABC Rive-Nord.
Normandeau denies being influenced
In the testimony, Zambito also singled out former deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau for accepting concert tickets to shows by Celine Dion and Madonna.
Zambito said he organized a fundraising dinner for Normandeau that raised $110,000 for the party, but that when he looked at the party's official statements only $77,000 of donations was declared.
In a written statement on Wednesday, Normandeau said she always acted with integrity and honesty.
"Like many of my colleagues I was called upon to take part in fundraising activities as a guest of honour or invitee," wrote Normandeau. "However I was never involved in the organization of these activities."
Nathalie Normandeau dismissed the idea that her integrity could be compromised by a few dozen roses and Celine Dion concert tickets. She issued a curt statement following explosive allegations at the province's ongoing inquiry.
Normandeau, now out of politics, did not deny receiving gifts from Zambito. This was after the star witness told the inquiry that he sent Normandeau 40 red roses on her 40th birthday, as well as concert tickets.
But she said such trinkets never swayed her decision-making.
"I will reaffirm that I always did my work with rigour while remaining conscious of the importance of honouring citizens' trust," Normandeau said in a statement released Wednesday.
"I will not let anyone call into question my integrity."
She is the same high-ranking politician who called a news conference to condemn Maclean's magazine when it ran a cover two years ago that called Quebec Canada's most corrupt province, illustrated by an image of Bonhomme Carnaval holding a briefcase stuffed with cash.
Normandeau denied knowing anything about illegal fundraising.
PQ wants electoral reform
Meanwhile the Parti Quebecois is calling for all-party support to change political fundraising in Quebec.
Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for democratic institutions, said the PQ wants to cap individual donations at $100.
"We are proposing a system that will put an end to this whole system of prete-noms, to the power of the bagmen," said Drainville.
Drainville said it was time to "clean the system," to increase its level of integrity, and to "put an end to the power of money."
The hearings are scheduled to resume next Monday.
Zambito has hinted that his string of allegations about wrongdoing at the City of Montreal are but the tip of the iceberg and has promised to describe similar behaviour in other jurisdictions.
The testimony about the Normandeau fundraiser and Whissell's entourage were Zambito's first foray into provincial politics during his five days on the inquiry witness stand.
Zambito is the first eyewitness to alleged instances of corruption to appear before the Charbonneau commission.
With a report from The Canadian Press