Describing the quebec liberal government of Philippe Couillard, elected in April 2014, as beleaguered would be a fair comment.
This past April, Sam Hamad had to step down as president of the treasury board. The resignation followed revelations that in 2012, a company seeking a $7.5-million grant was given $8.5 million, plus an $11.2-million interest-free loan, after Hamad’s breakfast meeting with Marc-Yvan Côté, then a director of the company.
Côté was a Quebec Liberal health minister in the 1990s and a federal Liberal fundraiser until revelations in 2005 that he distributed $120,000 in illegal Ad-Scam cash to federal Liberal candidates.
Hamad’s resignation followed a troubled March. When Carlos Leitão, Couillard’s finance minister, brought down his second straight balanced budget, the good news was obscured by the arrest of Côté, Nathalie Normandeau (municipal affairs minister in Jean Charest’s Liberal government) and five others. They allegedly engaged in illegal party fundraising activities; further, engineering firms allegedly were thanked with lucrative infrastructure contracts after contributing to the Quebec Liberals.
The November 2015 report of the Charbonneau Commission into corruption in Quebec’s construction industry, launched in 2011, has not helped. Although commissioner Renaud Lachance concluded that allegations of corruption in public contracts were unproven, Justice France Charbonneau called for continuing investigations to root out corruption.
Couillard named Robert Poëti, a former Sûreté du Québec police officer as transport minister and Poëti started looking into possible corrupt practices. But before his investigations could be concluded, he was removed in a cabinet shuffle.
Poëti’s successor in transport, Jacques Daoust, did not share Poëti’s anti-corruption zeal: department officials, later testifying at legislature committee hearings, told of intimidation and a culture of sweeping questions of corruption under the carpet.
Daoust resigned in August, when an auditor general’s report revealed that as economy minister, he personally approved the sale in April of a block of Rona Inc. shares the province had bought in 2012 to stop the sale of the hardware chain; that revelation contradicted Daoust’s previous denials. Rona was sold to a U.S.-based buyer, but the Opposition parties insist the government could have used its shares to stop the sale.
Still, persistent whiffs of scandal, musical chairs in cabinet and the loss of several other MPPs do not seem to have hurt Couillard’s Liberals.
With 35% voter support, the Liberals remain ahead in the polls. The Opposition Parti Québécois, in the throes of its second leadership race since the 2014 election, and the Coalition Avenir Québec are tied at 25%. For now, Quebec voters seem to accept Couillard as the lesser evil.
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