QUEBEC – The leader of the Quebec Liberals says police seized boxes full of documents in a raid on his party headquarters and he promises his full co-operation with their investigation.
In his first public comments on the July raid by UPAC, the provincial anti-corruption unit, Philippe Couillard said: “I want no compromises. I want the truth,” and, “people will have to answer for their actions.”
News of the raid was kept quiet for two months. It appeared in different media on the eve of the reopening of the legislature Tuesday, marring the Liberals’ first day of the fall session.
Couillard said that when police decided not to announce the raid over the summer, he and the party concluded that they had better stay silent to avoid interfering with the investigation, and assumed the news would come out anyway if anyone was charged.
He offered few details when asked Tuesday what police were looking for, and who they were targeting.
“There were so many boxes — I don’t know what was in there,” he said Tuesday, adding that some of the seized documents had been returned.
News of the raid overshadowed all other issues Tuesday at Quebec’s national assembly, including the controversial debate over religious accommodations.
Some Liberals grumbled that the timing of the news appeared all too convenient, for their political opponents.
One Liberal MNA also expressed frustration on his way into the legislature that the caucus had not been informed of the raids before the media report.
The initial report, on Radio-Canada, said some Liberal MNAs had been questioned by police but it did not specify whether they were current or past politicians.
Couillard said he’s begun asking his current MNAs whether they have been questioned by police and, so far, none say they have.
What about past MNAs — are any of them targeted by police?
“I don’t want to know,” Couillard said. “I don’t want to intervene in any way in police investigations.”
In recent months, UPAC raids have often been the prelude to arrests. The anti-corruption unit, created by the past Liberal government, has arrested more than 100 people.
Couillard says the political environment has already changed in Quebec, with reforms brought in under the Liberals and now the PQ, although he promises more changes in the future.
He says he wants to introduce a code of ethics for his party, specifically, and also for future governments.
He illustrated that point by castigating a party MNA who distributed fundraising letters, in front of a synagogue, in which he listed things the Liberals had done for the Jewish community.
The party has in the past been accused of linking its fundraising to government favours — with lucrative daycare permits being one example. Past daycare spaces were specifically referred to in the fundraising letter distributed at the synagogue.
Couillard cited a media commentator who called the synagogue fundraiser “awkward.” Couillard said it was worse than that.
“It’s not awkward… It’s inappropriate and unacceptable,” he said.
“If a dollar comes into the party that way, I don’t want that dollar.”
He said every fundraising dollar that comes into the party should come because people support its ideas, not in exchange for past or future favours.
One of those Liberal ideals is the defense of minority rights, Couillard said, in reference to the debate over the Parti Quebecois’ proposal to ban religious headwear in the public service.
But one opponent said the incident involving the synagogue fundraising letter shows nothing has changed in the Liberal party.
“They’ll keep collecting money while hinting that there could be a favour returned,” said Coalition Leader Francois Legault.
The Liberal MNA involved in the controversy, Pierre Marsan, apologized in the legislature Tuesday.
The province’s elections watchdog said it will investigate.
It noted in a news release that under the law only individuals, and not groups or associations, can be approached for donations.
The purpose of that rule is to avoid anything that resembles the so-called “sectoral” fundraising that, according to testimony at the province’s ongoing corruption inquiry, long defined the relationship between the construction industry and Quebec political parties.