The Bastarache inquiry, for you ignorant or indifferent souls, is the commission du jour here in Quebec. It’s a really, really long back story (chronicled here by yours truly in April), the gist of which is this: earlier this year, former justice minister Marc Bellemare alleged that under the Jean Charest Liberals, the judge selection process is replete with cronyism and partisan politicking–less a selection process than a coronation of people who have curried favour with the Liberal Party of Quebec. Charest, in a familiar fit of pique, took exception and called a commission into said selection process, to be chaired by esteemed jurist Michel Bastarache. Bellemare and Charest called each other liars, the latter sued the former for $700,000, Bellemare said he wouldn’t testify, then said he would. Meanwhile, Quebec’s voting public found yet another reason to be jaded and cynical about this province’s political class.
Bellemare testified today, and put meat on the bones of his earlier allegations. And lordy, quelle meat: Charest, Bellemare alleged, bent to the will of Franco Fava, a Liberal fundraiser, who wanted certain judges appointed. Bellemare named the judges in question: Marc Bisson, Michel Simard and Lin Gosselin-Desprès, all of whom have ties of some sort to the Liberal Party. Bellemare said he felt pressure to appoint the judges in question because of “colossal” pressure from Fava. “Franco is a personal friend, he’s an influent fundraiser. We need guys like him. We need to listen to him. He’s a professional fundraiser. If he tells you to name Simard and Bisson, then name them,” Charest said, according to Bellemare. He named dates and times that he met with Charest, and recalled being served Perrier at one of the meetings. He also said the he found the whole judge appointment thing morally abhorrent, and was one of the reasons he left the job not even a year after being elected.
(An aside.Try this at home: next time you make a mistake–drop your toast on the ground, say, or accidentally nominate a judge to the Superior Court–scream out “Bastarache!” It’s like swearing without being naughty.)
It’s rather explosive stuff, if only because Charest has spent the last six months swearing up and down that none of this was true. And, yes, Charest showed up in front of the cameras not even an hour after Bellemare wrapped things up for the day, to reiterate how Bellemare was full of Bastarache. It would be comical if the whole thing didn’t cost $6 million. Also, as Gohier pointed out, Charest’s quick sortie “calls into question all those non-statements about how public officials can’t comment when an issue is before the courts/commissions.”
Yes, Bellemare has a freakish ability to remember dates and times, and he’s a copious note taker. Yet there are a few details that don’t quite square:
1) Bellemare paints himself as an outsider who said he was done with politics when he retired in 2004. Yet he twice ran for mayor of Quebec City after that. Running for office takes moolah, and take a guess which fundraiser he tried to recruit in 2005: Franco Fava.
2) He left office in 2004 disillusioned, he said, because Charest went back on his promise to support the revamping of Quebec’s no fault insurance plan to better serve car accident victims, his pet project. And for the last six months he has basically painted the Premier as a stooge for Liberal bagmen and construction unions. Yet in 2004–right around the time he was running for mayor, coincidentally or not–he wrote a slobbering open letter in Le Soleil, describing Charest as a statesman of the first order. “Every time [Charest] receives foreign dignitaries in Quebec City he score precious points. By exploiting his best quality, he meet the great expectations of the citizens who live there.”
Some decent fodder for cross-examination, to say the least.
The inquiry continues tomorrow.