Charbonneau commission to turn its eye on Parti Québécois?

By Robert Frank

Quebecers are generally more relaxed about personal habits and bodily functions than their brothers and sisters in Ontario. Instead of dwelling upon politicians’ drug use and sexual proclivities, we marvel at the mores of those who have taken an unbridled proprietary interest in the public purse.

Quebecers have, for the past two years, been treated to ever-greater televised accusations against prominent politicians and top civil servants. Corruption will never disappear entirely. But this is about more than a bottle of wine, or a pair of tickets in the red seats behind the Canadiens’ bench. The question is whether Quebec is open to entertain equal opportunity debauchery. The parade of witnesses testifying before the Charbonneau commission have overwhelmingly pointed their fingers at prominent Quebec Liberal and Montreal and Laval politicians.

Will the Parti Québécois, which was, in part, elected last year amidst the swirl of allegations, cheer on Justice France Charbonneau with the same glee, if and when its own members face the glare of the media spotlight and the ignominy of guilt by association?

SNC-Lavalin is accused of some of the wrongdoing. So, what did it do during the years that the Parti Québécois was in power?

If Pauline Marois’ actions this spring are any guide, it will likely be un poids, deux mesures, when her fellow indépendantistes come under such scrutiny.

The Quebec premier already bridled, immediately after testimony that accused former Péquiste Transport Minister Guy Chevrette of intervening in road construction contracts. Marois’ subsequent statement subtly implied that the Charbonneau inquiry had acted imprudently.

Indeed, there’s already a whiff of partisanship in how, where and when the police anti-corruption task force has timed and executed its arrests, and whom it has targeted.

Handcuffed politicians are paraded before paparazzi, ensuring that their reputations are demolished before they have any opportunity to defend themselves. The Geneva Codes prohibit treating enemy combatants that way—but since mayors aren’t prisoners-of-war, they’re not afforded the same degree of protection.

It could be argued that police actions that led to the resignations of longtime mayors Gérald Tremblay (Montreal) and Gilles Vaillanourt (Laval) were timely. But to swoop down in similar fashion against Tremblay’s successor, Michael Applebaum, so soon after he was elected interim mayor, hints at a police policy of political decapitation.

Add to that the focus on Montreal metropolitan municipalities, as well as the targeting of Italians and politicians of a federalist predilection, and there is an opportunity, in 2014, for the Charbonneau commission to consider probing Péquiste peccadilloes with similar circumspection.

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