Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Accusations fly after opposition rejects CAQ plan on political financing

The Liberals, Québec solidaire and Parti Québécois dug in their heels in opposing a CAQ proposal to discuss political financing rules, saying it is nothing more than a smokescreen to avoid the real issue.

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QUEBEC — The three opposition parties have rejected a proposal to review Quebec’s political financing rules, prompting the Coalition Avenir Québec government to accuse them of being incoherent and only interested in mudslinging.

As the saga over political financing ethics dragged into a second week at the legislature, CAQ house leader Simon Jolin-Barrette lashed out at the Liberal, Québec solidaire and Parti Québécois opposition parties for snubbing the government’s offer made last week in the heat of the debate over political financing.

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“The opposition parties have launched a mudslinging campaign and the moment we extend a hand they turn around and say no we don’t want to talk,” Jolin-Barrette said as the war of words heated up. “They refuse to accept an extended hand. It’s not acceptable.”

Jolin-Barrette was reacting to news the opposition parties had not only refused a request by Premier François Legault to follow the CAQ’s decision to stop private fundraising as his party has, they have also given a thumbs-down to an invitation to discuss political financing.

The invitation was sent to the three parties by Quebec Minister of Democratic Institutions Jean-François Roberge.

It followed the CAQ’s decision to stop fundraising, for now, as allegations float that CAQ backbenchers were offering mayors and entrepreneurs access to cabinet ministers for the price of a $100 ticket to a fundraising cocktail party. Two CAQ MNAs are under investigation by Quebec’s ethics commissioner as a result.

On Monday, officials with the Directeur générale des élections du Québec (DGEQ) confirmed the CAQ no longer is on the list of political parties on its website accepting political donations.

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“The measure is now in place, at the request of the party,” DGEQ spokesperson Julie St-Arnaud said.

The CAQ’s own website has also dropped the donation option.

The decision to not accept donations comes at a price for the CAQ, which in 2023 raised more than $800,000 this way.

But arriving at the legislature Tuesday, the opposition parties were still hopping mad at the CAQ’s manoeuvring. They said the only reason the CAQ wants to alter the rules is because they got caught not respecting them.

All three said the only place they are willing to discuss financing rules is before a standing committee of the DGEQ, which meets regularly outside the legislature.

“What the CAQ is doing is creating a diversion, a smokescreen, trying to create a parallel process in the hope of avoiding the attention at the National Assembly,” QS co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois told reporters earlier in the day.

“I think they are trying to hide the fact they have not been respecting the law,” added interim Liberal leader Marc Tanguay. “It’s a nice attempt to try to cover the fact they have been behaving badly.”

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In another twist, Le Soleil reported Tuesday that the DGEQ had issued a warning back in October about potential problems connected to the presence of ministers at such fundraising events.

In a 172-page report, the DGEQ concluded: “The presence of a minister at a fundraising activity could be (or seem to be) linked to contributions made by donors at the same activity.”

Le Soleil also reported the extent that the CAQ was making use of such events to raise money. Of the 30 ministers in the Legault cabinet, 29 participated in such fundraising activities since being named to cabinet in 2022.

Two in particular, Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault and Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon, stood out, attending 16 events each.

That revelation raised questions in the mind of PQ MNA Pascal Bérubé, who noted Guilbault and Fitzgibbon head two ministries that give out big government grants. Last week, PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon proposed ministers no longer be allowed to attend such functions.

The three opposition parties have decided to retain the private fundraising option because they think it is a citizen’s democratic right to donate to a party they believe in.

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“This is how we have rolled for the last 50 years,” Bérubé said, calling the CAQ’s current situation a “fiasco.”

All the opposition parties noted inconsistencies in the CAQ’s political spin about the financing rules, noting the same party that today wants to stop raising private donations told the same DGEQ standing committee a few weeks earlier that they wanted to increase the legal level of donations from $100 to $200.

The standing committee, which includes members of all the parties, had agreed to the increase only to see the CAQ drop the proposal last week when allegations of MNA fundraising methods emerged.

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But the CAQ’s problems got worse with the release Tuesday of a new Léger poll confirming, again, that the PQ has taken a lead in public opinion over it in Quebec.

Had an election been held this week, the PQ would have obtained 32 per cent of the vote compared with 25 per cent for the CAQ. QS is at 16 per cent, the Liberals 15 per cent and the Conservative Party of Quebec 11 per cent.

pauthier@postmedia.com

twitter.com/philipauthier

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