Bastarache: Lalande backs up Bellemare with hard evidence
A decisive week at the Bastarache Commission in Quebec City began with a bang Monday, as former deputy justice minister Georges Lalande provided hard evidence that Franco Fava was pressuring Marc Bellemare to name certain friends of the Liberal Party as judges.
Lalande worked under Bellemare during his brief time as justice minister in 2003 and 2004, and was appointed by Bellemare to head a reform into the Quebec government's administrative tribunals, Lalande testified Monday.
That reform required Lalande to meet with Fava on several occasions because of the prominent Liberal fundraiser's role on the board of the Commission de la sante et de la securite du travail du Quebec (CSST), which fell under the scope of Lalande's reform mandate.
Over the course of those meetings, Lalande alleges that Fava told him how important it was that the Liberal government appoint friends of the party as judges, and that Bellemare did not appreciate that importance.
Lalande took detailed notes during these meetings and they were submitted as evidence before the Bastarache Commission on Monday, providing the first hard evidence backing up Bellemare's claims that he was pressured by Liberal fundraisers to name certain people as judges.
It was an explosive start to what promises to be a revealing week at the commission into the nomination of judges, one that could very well finish with the testimony of Premier Jean Charest.
The commission is also expected to hear from Fava and Charles Rondeau, the two men Bellemare accuses of applying the most pressure into the naming of certain people as judges.
In all there are nine people scheduled to testify over five days of hearings, so it is possible Charest will not testify this week seeing as he is the last name on the list of expected witnesses.
However, the commission's news release with the list of witnesses states that the order they appear is subject to change.
Charest is in New York City on Monday with Environment Minister Pierre Arcand for Climate Week NYC, a environmental forum focusing on climate change and the green economy.
Bisson, Fava and Rondeau testify
Following Lalande on the witness list is Guy Bisson, a Liberal fundraiser in the Outaouais and the father of Marc Bisson, whom Bellemare claims he was pressured into naming as a judge.
Bisson will be followed by Fava, a central figure in these hearings as the primary source of the pressure Bellemare alleges he was under. Fava is an important fundraiser for the Liberal Party of Quebec, and Bellemare claims Charest told him to respect Fava's wishes when it came to nominating judges.
After the commission hears from former labour minister Michel Despres – who is related to Line Gosselin-Despres, another judge Bellemare alleges he was pressured into naming – and from Transport Minister Norman ManMillan, it will be Rondeau's turn to tell his side of the story.
Bellemare has mentioned Rondeau on several occasions as another source of pressure in the nomination of Quebec Court judge Michel Simard.
Rondeau's claims challenged by newspaper report
Montreal daily La Presse reported in its Monday edition that Rondeau made 20 visits to Charest's office between August, 2003 and February, 2004, and 14 of those visits were to meet with the person responsible for the nomination of judges, Chantal Landry. Rondeau had told the commission's prosecutors that he had only been to Charest's office twice, the newspaper report says. The visits, according to the visitor's log at Charest's office which was obtained by La Presse, lasted an average of one hour.
Landry, Charest's current deputy chief of staff, is scheduled to testify after Rondeau this week. Charest's former chief of staff during Bellemare's time as justice minister, Stephane Bertrand, is also scheduled to testify this week.
Finally, the commission will hear from Charest, who has steadfastly denied all of Bellemare's claims and will have his first chance to defend himself in the eyes of not only commissioner Michel Bastarache, but the entire population of Quebec.
Recent polls have suggested the public's confidence in Charest is remarkably low, while also suggesting that Bellemare is believed by a strong percentage of the population.
Finally, the lawyers for the commission and those for the parties involved agreed last week not to discuss the credibility of witnesses or evidence in public until Bastarache's report is tabled later this year.
With files from Canadian Press