PQ under fire following reports of construction bid rigging
Published Saturday, March 29, 2014 12:43PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, March 29, 2014 11:28PM EDT
Liberal leader Philippe Couillard is demanding full financial statements from PQ leader Pauline Marois and CAQ Francois Legault following a report published in the La Presse newspaper Saturday alleging that the Parti Quebecois government accepted kickbacks from construction companies in the 1990s.
Marois, who turned 65 Saturday, said at a press conference in Montreal Saturday morning that she knew nothing about any such deal.
The La Presse article suggests that the anti-collusion unit of the Transport Ministry (now part of UPAC) issued a report indicating that the PQ received construction kickbacks of $40,000 to $50,000 per year per construction company, in a sort of annual auction for territorial rights. Laval, for example, was divided into six such territories, according to La Presse.
CAQ leader Legault was also targeted in Couillard's comments because he was elected as a PQ MNA in 1998 and was immediately appointed Minister for Industry and Commerce before serving as Minister of Education and then finally quitting the party in 2009.
Legault was quick to comply with the request, issing a simple statement listing the assets he shares with his wife Isabelle Brais, which he reports to have a total value of $9,775,000. Legault said that their home is worth $4,779,000, their RRSPs $4.6 million, investments $274,000 and vehicles $70,000.
Legault said that he knew of no bid rigging schemes during his years with the PQ but described the allegations as "very disturbing." He demanded that former transport ministers address the question. Jacques Leonard, Jean Campeau, Jacques Brassard and Guy Chevrette all served as Quebec transport ministers in the 1990s.
The PQ issued a statement Tuesday acknowledging that two sergeants from Operation Marteau had met "informally" with PQ director general Sylvain Tanguay and party administrator Pierre Seguin. The PQ statement reported that PQ was not subject to any searches and no further meetings ensued.
When asked whether she called the election before or after she learned of the meeting, Marois said that she could not remember. "I do not remember. I would have to check, honestly," she stammered.
“Recess is over,” said the Liberal leader, while campaigning in Cacouna in the Lower St. Lawrence. He demanded that his rivals in the April 7 election make all of their financial information public.
Couillard shared his financial statements last week, as well as those of his wife. On Friday he issued a legal document confirming that he never did business with Dr. Arthur Porter, now accused of fraud.
Marois released some limited reports of her 2012 earnings just prior to the Thursday debate.
Meanwhile Marois, campaigning in Montreal, attacked Couillard for comments he made in the Thursday debate vaunting the benefits of bilingualism, even in the workplace.
Marois accused Couillard of having a poor grasp on Bill 101 and the law on French in the workplace.
She also talked about workplace safety as she stood near the CHUM French superhospital site hovering in the background.
The PQ promised to tackle the issue of workers pension benefits and would then consult with employers and unions on whether it should modernize the Labour Code, including possible changes to anti-scab legislation.
“We are ready to consider discussing this issue, as other issues. It is still in our program even if it is not in our election platform,” said Marois. “It’s not excluded but it won’t be a priority.”
The issue is somewhat thorny for the PQ, which had proposed draft anti-scab legislation after now-candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau locked out Journal de Montreal workers.
Marois said she wanted to be “conservative,” “because a certain equilibrium has been reached.”
Marois will be on what should be more friendly turf later Saturday as she takes part in a party rally in Montreal. Candidates Pierre Karl Peladeau, Bernard Drainville, Véronique Hivon and Martine Desjardins are expected to attend the event hosted by actress Suzanne Champagne and attended by author Janette Bertrand, actress Guylaine Tremblay among others.
QS raises tax haven question
The Quebec Solidaire party, meanwhile, was raising questions about offshore banking havens. The party expressed curiosity about some holdings apparently linked to Quebecor, a company long controlled by PQ candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau.
The QS named 60 companies with holdings based in Delaware that are named after Quebecor and its affiliates.
Mercier incumbent Amir Khadir also issued a long list of other companies, including Vidéotron, Archambault, Sun Media, QMI, Nurun and the Toronto Sun which the party claimed might be escaping some Quebec taxes.
"While the little guy has to pay his fair share, the rich and powerful get these loopholes. This is unfair and unacceptable," said Khadir. "We have problems paying our debts, balancing our budgets and serious cuts are being made. Society cannot function like that."
Marois, when asked, said that she did not do any research to see if any of her candidates had any accounts in offshore banks.
She said she “hoped that it’s not the case” because”It’s immoral to act in that way.”
But she said that she would not expel any candidate with an offshore bank account, rather than candidate would have to “admit the error” and rectify it.
The PQ had jumped on Liberal leader Philippe Couillard’s for once investing some money in such an account while working in Saudi Arabia.
Delaware, according to a book by Alain Deneault, is considered an offshore banking haven, especially by Limited Liability Companies (LLCs).
Later Saturday afternoon Pierre Karl Peladeau met with reporters in an impromptu media scum to briefly answer questions concerning the QS accusations.
He said that it is common practice to incorporate companies in Delaware and that Quebecor was simply following that trend for the sake of convenience. Peladeau added that he knew of no particular tax advantages of being based in that particular state.
When asked if he also had ever used offshore banking himself, Peladeau quickly replied, "never." He then declined to answer any further questions following the brief two-minute scrum.
Legault pushes river tourism
Meanwhile CAQ leader Legault held a press conference outlining his plans to boost tourism, a plan which would revolve around increasing visits to towns along the St. Lawrence River.
The CAQ would create a tourist route along the river that would showcase villages and towns between Montreal and the Gaspe.
He said that he would also review the budgets allotted to 21 regional tourism associations.
-With files from The Canadian Press