Quebec's opposition Coalition-Avenir-Québec party is crying foul over what it claims is a secret deal that will allow the Mohawk community of Kahnawake to open an illegal casino.
Premier Jean Charest's government denied negotiations had taken place with the native community over the building of a casino.
According to MNA Sylvie Roy, one of nine members of the National Assembly who are attached to the newly formed CAQ, the negotiations took place with three people with ties to Quebec Premier Jean Charest – his adviser John Parisella, his former chief of staff Dan Gagnier and lobbyist Rémi Bujold.
Ms. Roy told the National Assembly that in exchange for the Mohawk community's permission to build a section of a highway on native land, the Quebec government agreed to transfer through the federal government a portion of prime real estate to allow for the construction of what she claimed will be a lucrative gaming establishment.
She said the deal was being concluded despite Quebec law that requires that all casinos be operated by the province's lottery and gaming commission.
The Parti Québécois raised similar questions in the National Assembly, calling on the government to include a provision in the land-transfer deal prohibiting the Mohawks from building a casino.
Transport Minister Pierre Moreau explained that the land-transfer proposal was part of long-standing negotiations involving the Mohawks and the federal government and had nothing to do with a casino.
Native Affairs Minister Geoff Kelley added that there was no discussion about building a casino project on Mohawk land. He noted that residents of Kahnawake will vote in a referendum on April 28 to either accept or reject a proposal to build a casino. Until that decision was made, Mr. Kelly added, the government had nothing to say.
The government has a monopoly that is managed by Loto-Québec over matters concerning casinos and lotteries, Mr. Kelley said in the National Assembly. "I can't say what the result of the referendum will be nor can I say what the government's position will eventually be once a project is tabled. Right now there is no project. I can't comment on something that doesn't exist."
In 1994 and again in 2003 the residents of Kahnawake rejected by slim margins proposals to build a casino. This month's referendum was expected to produce another close result. But if the project is approved, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake says it will proceed regardless of what the Quebec government decides.
"We're Kanewakans. We don't consider ourselves part of Quebec. We are located in Quebec. We are also located in Canada. We don't consider ourselves Canadians. We don't say this in the nastiest way. This is just who we are. ... And if we do [build a casino] we will be operating it, we will be licensing it. We have a great gaming commission," said Joe Delarond, a member of the Mohawk casino project team.
Mr. Delarond confirmed that the project would be built on the land being transferred to the community. According to Mr. Delarond, conservative estimates show that it would generate $50-million in profits during the first year of operations.
"There are conflicts with the laws in Quebec but we are not going to cross that bridge right away. Let's see what happens with the referendum," Mr. Delarond said.
Editor's Note: The CAQ alleges a casino deal involving the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, not Kanesatake. Incorrect information appeared in an article and headline.