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Liberal fundraiser tried to influence judicial picks, Bastarache inquiry hears

Georges Lalande, a retired associate deputy minister in Quebec's justice department, testifies at the Bastarache inquiry on Monday.

Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

A retired senior Quebec government official has supported allegations that a Liberal Party fundraiser attempted to influence the nomination and promotion of Quebec Court judges.

Former associate deputy minister of justice George Lalande on Monday told an inquiry that in 2003 he met on three occasions with party fundraiser Franco Fava, who wanted the justice minister, Marc Bellemare, to co-operate on getting loyal Liberals appointed to the Quebec Court. In return, Mr. Lalande testified, Mr. Fava said he would use his influence to help the minister get reforms passed, including changes to administrative tribunals and the province's no-fault insurance plan.

Referring to his personal notes, Mr. Lalande said Mr. Fava called Mr. Bellemare "too pure" in refusing to promote those viewed as Liberal supporters to the bench.

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Mr. Lalande said Mr. Fava bragged to him that he was a friend of Premier Jean Charest and could raise $1-million a year for the party. He then went on to quote Mr. Fava as saying: "Mr. Bellemare didn't understand that we needed to name our friends in justice or elsewhere. After nine years in opposition they [Liberal supporters]are backed up on our doorstep."

Mr. Lalande was the first witness to support Mr. Bellemare's allegations before the inquiry into the appointment of judges in Quebec headed by former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache.

Mr. Fava insisted at a July, 2003, meeting that judge Michel Simard be promoted to associate chief justice of the Quebec Court, and that Gatineau lawyer Marc Bisson be appointed as a Quebec Court judge, Mr. Lalande testified.

In a meeting with Mr. Fava in December, 2003, Mr. Lalande said, he was told that "efforts" needed to be made to appoint the cousin of labour minister Michel Désprès to the youth division of the Quebec Court.

"Bellemare needs to make some efforts," Mr. Fava said according to Mr. Lalande. "We want Michel Déprès' cousin to be named to the Quebec Court. She is a good Liberal."

Mr. Bisson's father, who is a long-time Liberal party organizer, told the inquiry that he met with current Liberal minister Norm MacMillan in 2003, after the Liberals won the election, to help his son get appointed to the bench. "I certainly hoped it helped," Guy Bison told the inquiry. "I couldn't intervene before, the Liberals weren't in power."

A Bastarache commission document leaked to the media, a sign-in register from the Premier's office, showed that party fundraiser Charles Rondeau went to Mr. Charest's offices 20 times between Aug. 27, 2003, and Feb. 18, 2004, to meet with the official responsible for government appointments, Chantal Landry. However, another leaked document, an initial statement made to commission lawyers, indicates that Mr. Rondeau said he had been to the Premier's office only twice during that period.

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Ms. Landry and Mr. Rondeau are expected to testify on Tuesday. Mr. Fava is scheduled to appear this week along with Mr. Charest, who has denied allegations that he approved of influence peddling.

Meanwhile, Hydro Quebec acknowledged late Monday that Mr. Fava's construction company, Neilson Inc., and other companies belonging to the family, received $783-million in contracts from the public utility between April, 2002, and April, 2010. The biggest contract, worth $187.5-million, was awarded in February, 2009.

Hydro Quebec released the figures on its website on Monday after TVA news network made several access to information requests.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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