Everything you ever wanted to know about Axor’s illegal donations in Quebec (but were afraid to ask)

Late last week, Quebec’s Directeur général des élections (DGE) announced it had uncovered forty cases of illegal donations to provincial political parties by the engineering firm Axor. (Although the DGE treated the donations as having come from three separate companies—Axor Experts-Conseils inc., Groupe Axor inc. and Axor Construction Canada inc.—for the sake of simplicity, I’ll treat them as one. If their names are any indication, it’s not like much thought went into distinguishing them from each other anyway.)

The actual tickets issued by the DGE are a matter of public record and their office helpfully sent them my way last Friday. (Download them here if you like.)

Looking them over, what struck me was the DGE’s reluctance to investigate what appears to be a well-oiled political donation machine at the company. That isn’t to say the scheme wasn’t crass—it doesn’t take a genius for a company to figure out it can get around the rules by reimbursing its employees’ donations. But the sheer numbers are still impressive: between 2006 and 2008, Axor used its employees’ names on 40 occasions—that’s more than once per month—to make a total of 55 donations. And while Jean Charest may be keen to point out all three parties got their mitts on Axor’s money, the donations show a clear preference for the Liberals.

Of the 55 donations worth a total of $152,500, 39 of those cheques were made out to the PLQ for a grand total of $113,500. Meanwhile, the PQ cashed in 14 donations worth $34,000, and the ADQ brought up the rear with two donations worth a combined $5,000. If Axor thought it was hedging its bets by throwing loose change at the opposition, it desperately needs a lesson in hedging.

As if 55 dubious donations from a single company over three years weren’t enough to raise eyebrows, there’s the fact this isn’t the first time the construction industry has been linked to illegal political financing schemes.

Between 1993 and 1996, the Montreal-based engineering giant Tecsult (it’s since been purchased by U.S.-based AECOM Technology Corp.), is thought to have illegally poured between $240,000 and $480,000 into the coffers of the PQ and the PLQ. The ruse wasn’t discovered by the DGE until 2002, when it was too late to investigate, but the company’s former president says everyone in his line of work was doing the same thing. More recently, Paolo Catania, the head of Frank Catania Construction, was found to have exceeded donation limits on four separate occasions since 2000. In all, Québec Solidaire says the Liberal party received nearly $400,000 in donations from people linked to the engineering sector in 2008 alone.

Charest’s reluctance to call an inquiry into the construction industry is well-documented and the DGE has so far been content to simply fine the overly generous. But even those already meagre penalties aren’t exactly as hefty as they might initially appear. Consider: Axor’s technically on the hook for $87,907 in fines for those 40 infractions. But when you subtract the money the company is getting back from the DGE, the total melts down to a much more manageable $8,607, or less than 10 per cent of the original sum. That’s because, until 2008, illegal donations in Quebec were returned to the donors. (Under the revised law, corporate donations are now handed to the Finance Ministry.) So at the same time as Axor will be cutting a cheque for $87,907, it will be cashing in two others for the amount of its political gifts for 2006 ($36,700) and 2007 ($42,600).

The real losers are the parties, especially the Liberals. They have to return all the money and, unlike Axor, get nothing back to offset it. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not arguing they should be allowed to keep it. But it seems like the donors are getting off mighty lightly here compared to the recipients: there’s no real fine to speak of, nor will there be an investigation to make sure their fits of generosity are tempered for good.




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Everything you ever wanted to know about Axor’s illegal donations in Quebec (but were afraid to ask)

  1. I'm admittedly slow about many things, but how on earth do such revelations not demand criminal investigations? For all the talk of organized crime…

    • As Trudeau wouild have indicated, "Shrug."

    • " …. but how on earth do such revelations not demand criminal investigations?"

      This is what I was wondering about while reading post. Why do Quebecers put up with this? Corruption within construction industry has been well known for decades and yet nothing changes.

      • I think corruption has been a way of life for some Quebecers. I remember when I was living in Montreal someone told a French Canadian friend that BCs Fraser Canyon cost over a million dollar a mile in some sections (probably arounnd 1960 at those prices). The friend, who was from rural Quebec bred and borne said, "Hey, we spend a million dollars a maudit mile and there is no canyon."

        He later added that there was 8* of gravel, 4"of paving but 6"of politics. So in Spring the road had 18 ïnch deep holes.

        • Ha, thanks!

  2. But it seems like the donors are getting off mighty lightly here compared to the recipients: there's no real fine to speak of, nor will there be an investigation to make sure their fits of generosity are tempered for good.

    That argument only holds if you honestly believe no one in the political parties were aware of the goings-on. I confess I find that very hard to believe. Your party suddenly trips over a mega-source of ongoing cash, you will at least get to know your new friends a wee bit ( you can be bloody sure they will be making sure you do). All the parties have to do is return the $ they should never have had in the first place. No fines for them? No sanctions such as the right to hold public office for 'X' years? No jail?

    The parties themselves seem to be getting off pretty lightly, too.

    • Well, there's only one way to find out what the parties really knew and that's an inquiry. Until then, I think they've got plausible deniability (note: that doesn't mean I believe them, just that it's plausible). The Liberals can conceivably say they know there's dirty money coming to them, but there's no mechanism for them to separate it from the good money.

      The company (or companies) don't even have that much. The instant they refunded their employees' donations, they knew they were breaking financing rules. And the DGE's investigation looked at donors, not the parties' fundraisers, who should be investigated but haven't been. The only people under the microscope here are the corporate donors. That they've been investigated, found to be doing improper things, and essentially let off the hook is what suprises me.

      • By all means, investigate the parties. But your point was that the "recipients" were really hurting (at least, more than the donors were) because they lost the money that they never should have had in the first place. My point is that it seems they (the recipient parties) deserve way more pain than that.

        (clarifying parentheses added in an almost instantaneous update)

  3. Another dog bites man story from Quebec.

  4. Hmmm………corruption in Quebec?

    whodathunk it.

    Corruption disproportionately sticking to Liberals???…Quel surpris?

    Why not just say the sun is going to shine, or the rain will fall. We've come to expect those two words to be spoken in conjunction. But hey, it works at the Federal Level too.

    Liberals + Corruption……yep, never saw that one coming.

    • It's comments like this that make me want to turn off commenting. This one's got everything—confirmation bias, blinkered ideology, disinterest in the actual story. It is totally and perfectly useless.

      • so Liberals are not responsible for 90% of the sleaze in federal and Quebec politics then?

  5. Libranos indeed.

    And I'm sure the Biker gangs are involved too…..

    La Famillia, Liberal !!

  6. Philippe Gohier stated:
    "It's comments like this that make me want to turn off commenting"

    Are you saying there is no corruption, Phil?
    Are you saying the Liberals have not been deeply involved in corruption, Phil.

    Tell me, Phil….what are you saying?

    • I believe he's saying you add nothing to the discussion other than the confirmation of your own limited intellect

    • It irritates me that every discussion, sooner or later, devolves into people pointing out their historical grievances against the LIEberals or the CONbots or whatever. It's inane is what I'm saying.

      It's not a problem when people disagree. Disagreement is fine, even—hell, especially—when it's done forcefully. But comments that amount to "see, I told you those liberals were nothing but a bunch of socialist crooks" or "see, I told you those conservatives were a bunch of fascist knuckledraggers" are repetitive and predictable, and they bore me to tears.

  7. One last thing Phil…….

    I do think you wrote a good column. People do need to hear about this, and I agree…and inquiry is needed.

    Badly.

  8. More bad news for the LPQ.
    Is this the nail in the coffin for Charest?

    It's rather incredible how powerful the construction lobby is in Quebec, even more so when you consider how long it has been a political influence. I'm of the opinion that we need to accept that "privileged relations" will never go away and rather than be in an uproar over them we need to find a way to make sure they don't have dire consequences for society as a whole.
    The judge naming "scandal" was one that I couldn't understand how people were acting as if the government doing favours for people who have been good to them is unacceptable.
    This story pushes the envloppe however, and in the wrong way. Nothing wrong with favours but when it affects important processes like elections then something needs to be done.

  9. Philippe Gohier wrote:
    "It irritates me that every discussion, sooner or later, devolves into people pointing out their historical grievances against the LIEberals or the CONbots or whatever. It's inane is what I'm saying."

    To which I reply:

    You must LOVE question period.

    I bet your favourites are Mark Holland, Hedy Fry, Marlene Jennings……and Ralph Goodale.

    Honourable Mention: John Baird.

  10. Oliver wrote:
    "It's rather incredible how powerful the construction lobby is in Quebec"

    It's not incredible at all, Oliver. The Italian Mafia and the biker gangs have been funding Quebec politics for generations. No one is surpirsed in the least, least of all Quebecers.

    I'd like to see a full scale gutting of Quebec politics. I wonder how many more folks will have to have a bridge come down on their heads until it happens.

  11. Test for Google:
    "Conservative Corruption" 422 hits…majority describing former Conservative Party, not the new Conservative Party

    "Liberal corruption" 8,780 hits.

    Hmmm…
    interesting

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