Not any more

Is Charest’s accuser lying or just in it for himself?

In Canada on August 25, 2010 at 10:27

Quebec Justice Minister Marc Bellemare speaks to media after submitting his resignation at the Quebec legislature on April 27, 2004.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 6:07 AM

Is Charest’s accuser lying or just in it for himself?

Norman Spector

You have to wonder what Jean Charest was thinking (or drinking) when he decided to set up a public inquiry into accusations that he, personally, was at the centre of a system in which senior judges were appointed in Québec at the behest of Liberal Party bagmen.

Mr. Charest — never first in the hearts of the Québécois nation, and with his credibility at an all-time low now that he’s into his third term — surely must have seen the danger of giving Marc Bellemare live television time to give a version of events at which there were no third-party witnesses to goings-on at the highest level of the Québec government. As to those who say the Premier took the decision to deflect pressure for a more expansive inquiry into the financing of political parties, that inquiry — still demanded by voters and already intruding into the proceedings in any case — would at least have spread the stench to the Parti Québécois, which fathered the financing system once promoted as a model for Canada.

If Mr. Bellemare’s testimony under oath yesterday is to be believed, he was on three occasions told whom to appoint to the bench. And, sadly, the Minister of Justice of Québec chose not to tell the Liberal party bagmen where they could stuff their instructions.

Instead, Mr. Bellemare asked to meet the Premier in order to complain about the interference. When told at that meeting by Mr. Charest to proceed with a partisan appointment, he says that he acceded to the demand. As Mr. Bellemare emphasized more than once yesterday in his calm and detailed testimony, the candidate had been certified as qualified. Moreover, he says that “in politics, a premier is like the Pope” — an analogy that doesn’t work for me after having worked for two First Ministers myself.

Watching Mr. Bellemare testify yesterday, I also had to wonder why he did not resign and go public in order to protect the integrity of the system. He says he had an important reform agenda as Minister of Justice to pursue. Yet, even when he did quit the following year, after that reform agenda was thwarted by his cabinet colleagues, there’s no evidence that he told anyone about the alleged political interference he now decries — and he certainly did not mention it in his resignation statement. Nor, in resigning from cabinet and from the National Assembly, did he refer to two other shocking allegations in yesterday’s testimony: the attempt by one of Mr. Charest’s advisers to interfere in a criminal trial, and the transfer of a cash-stuffed envelope in a restaurant to one of the bagmen.

You have to wonder why.

If some of this sounds familiar, it’s worth noting that Mr. Charest escaped by a whisker having to testify before the Oliphant Commission looking into the dealings between Karlheinz Schreiber and Brian Mulroney. Now, we’ll no doubt be hearing calls for his resignation amidst an odour of political corruption in Québec that we’ve not seen since the Gomery Commission. I’m not at all certain, however, that we’ll get any answers to these and other questions after the inquiry of former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache completes its work.

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