Finally, the Charbonneau Commission has moved beyond Montreal municipal politics—and the testimony of Gilles Cloutier has set Pauline Marois’s Parti Quebecois government positively on edge.
This week, the corrupt, dapper, and extremely talkative former political organizer dragged the party into the spotlight with a series of startling revelations. Two of the biggest: that former PQ transport minister Guy Chevrette had a hand in the fixing of a contract for highway repaving; that a friend of Chevrette’s had demanded a $100,000 bribe to get Cloutier an audience with the minister.
All of which is to say: be careful what you ask for.
For two years, Marois and the PQ demanded an inquiry into corruption in Quebec. But when the testimony disgraced one of the party’s own, the reaction was mealy mouthed, to say the least. Justice France Charbonneau’s commission “must do its work and must do it with prudence,” said the premier. Her vice-premier, Francois Gendron, was nearly as succinct, saying, “It bothers me when one is not careful. I went into politics to fight that kind of thing. I think I’m a guy with integrity, yet there they go, all out, painting everyone with the same brush.”
Now they speak up? Where were they when Line Beauchamp’s name was dragged through the mud before Christmas? Once a star in former premier Jean Charest’s cabinet, Beauchamp still hasn’t had the chance to explain to the commission just what she doing at Club 357C, the ultra-private club in Old Montreal that’s frequented by construction bosses and politicians alike.
“Bullies,” cried the opposition on Thursday. The PQ should leave the commission to do its work as it sees fit, with no implied threats or editorial comments, said Coalition Avenir Québec MNA Jacques Duchesneau.
Meanwhile, the seventy-three-year-old Cloutier, once a “business development” executive at the engineering firm Roche, merrily spoke about how good he was at his job. The firm gave him a large expense account, he told the commission, and he knew how to use it. The restaurant dinners, the cocktail parties, the pulled strings—whatever was necessary to keep Roche in the municipal and provincial contract games. Politicians, businesspeople, even Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Béliveau—Cloutier used them all (although Béliveau was unaware that Cloutier had made him a stooge, as part of a plan to help Roche win a multi-million-dollar water treatment contract).
Another one of Cloutier’s revelations has left a Superior Court judge on the commission’s hook. Yesterday, Cloutier described an encounter in October 1997, when Michel Déziel—who was a lawyer at the time, representing the engineering firm Dessau—approached him with $30,000 cash in an envelope: money that he asked to have laundered through “straw man” political donors. (Déziel became a judge in 2003.) “He committed fraud,” Cloutier testified. “I had a duty to mention it now that he’s a judge.” Déziel now faces an inquiry by the Canadian Judicial Council.
At one point during cross examination, Cloutier was asked: “So, you engaged in collusion?”
“Yes,” he replied. “I was good at it.”
This guy could have a role in a Quebec remake of Game of Thrones—he’s wily, cutthroat, and well-connected. But call this version “Game of Stones,” with cement, paving, and politicians all playing their necessary parts. This was how business was done. Cloutier was matter of fact about that.