Political support group’s non-partisan credentials questioned

By Geneviève April

The Ligue d’action civique’s mission is to help candidates for democratic office, regardless of their political stripe. It provides the basic tools that are needed to conduct an election campaign.

“Many people are fighting against bad governance in their own cities” founder Frédéric Lapointe told The Suburban in an interview.

“Involvement in elections has been part of our mandate from the outset, when the league was formed in 2011,” he explained. “We believe that the cure for corruption is to maximize the number of candidates, so we organized a pooled buying program [for them].”

The league has developed a set of campaign tools like graphic and printing services and election software. The idea is to bring together individuals and private firms, to give them an alternative to the professional political operatives who have been at the heart of allegations before the Charbonneau Commission on political collusion and corruption.

“We’re not subsidized by any government or union,” Lapointe said. “Our money comes solely from membership fees. For league members, signing up to our code of ethics is a way of showing their commitment to integrity.”

Although relatively unknown in the non-francophone community, the league hopes to raise its visibility there.

“We singled out Westmount Mayor Peter Trent as Elected Official of the Year,” noted Lapointe, “in recognition of his book on municipal administration and his resignation from the Union des municipalités du Québec over former mayor Gilles Vaillancourt’s actions. There’s no concealing that we’re less concerned about [the integrity of] municipal administration in [majority] English cities.

The league and its founder have nonetheless found themselves embroiled in the midst of the controversy over Vaillancourt’s alleged attempt to influence the election campaign of his former ally, Claire Le Bel (Option Laval). The league’s premises are located in the Entraide Point Viau building. The premises are owned by the community organization that Le Bel founded in 1993 and still controls. In addition, two former league employees, Reny Gagnon and Patrick Thauvette left to join Le Bel’s campaign team, calling the league’s impartiality into question. 

“When we decided to locate here, April 1, Claire Le Bel—who was then a member of our board of directors, offered to rent us space in the building,” Lapointe recalled. “When she decided to launch her campaign in August and to poach Reny Gagnon, whom we had appointed as director in April, as well as photographer Patrick Thauvette, I sent an open letter to clarify the situation and reassure all candidates that the league would remain unbiased and neutral.”

Knowing that the swirl of controversy surrounding its next-door-neighbour, Option Laval, would tempt some to jump to a conclusion, Lapointe emphasized that it’s just an address.

While refraining from commenting on the individual and campaign decisions of the main players in the Le Bel-Vaillancourt-Gagnon debacle, Lapointe acknowledged that the optics have had an effect on the league.

“Even if it had nothing to do with the league, we’ve since faced a lot of questions about Gagnon’s former status as our employee,” he admitted. “The events have put a lot of stress on our staff. Yes, there have been jokes. Yes, it’s a stroke of bad luck. But it doesn’t stop the league from doing its work. I would have preferred that it never had occurred because, at the end of the day, it’s as though we had faced the wrath of people who could resort to political violence.” 

“On the other hand,” Lapointe concluded, “it might have sent message deterring political violence, because people would rebel against it. The strong public reaction against it is reassuring”.

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