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Couillard vows Quebec will strengthen ties to Canada

Quebec Premier designate Philippe Couillard waves to people as he enters to be sworn in along with 69 elected Liberal candidates, Thursday, April 17, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Premier-elect Philippe Couillard marked the beginning of a new Liberal era by making a strong commitment to Canada that was overshadowed by recent police allegations of illegal party activities.

During the swearing-in ceremony of the 70 newly elected Liberals, Mr. Couillard promised to protect and promote the French language and culture while pursuing Quebec's "strong attachment" to Canada.

"We believe that our full participation in the Canadian federation contributes to Quebec's success," Mr. Couillard said in a speech delivered in the National Assembly's plush Red Room. "Quebec will be a leader and an active participant in the Canadian federation and use every opportunity to help Quebec progress within it."

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The solemn ceremony was eclipsed by earlier police revelations of fraud, conspiracy and influence peddling involving Liberal Party fundraising activities and political interference in the awarding of government contracts.

Mr. Couillard denied any involvement in what the special police anti-corruption unit has recently uncovered, distancing himself from his predecessor as party leader, Jean Charest, and the methods used to raise money. Mr. Couillard explained that party financing methods have been overhauled to avoid the type of alleged illegal funding activities that occurred in the past.

"The environment in which we are working has completely changed. Thank God we are no longer in the type of funding environment that existed before," Mr. Couillard said. "I was not aware of this. Important actions have been taken and are being taken and will give Quebeckers a fully honest and competent government."

Investigations into the political scandals over illegal party fundraising have implicated former Liberal deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau and an unnamed sitting Liberal member re-elected in the April 7 election.

According to court documents unsealed on Wednesday, Ms. Normandeau used her influence in 2007 when she was minister of Municipal Affairs to overrule recommendations from senior department officials to award an $11-million grant for a water treatment plant in Boisbriand in return for political donations.

The anti-corruption police unit, known as UPAC, was also investigating former Liberal MNA Violette Trépanier, who oversaw party fundraising activities from 2001 to 2012. The police probe is also examining the role of Liberal bagman Marc Bibeau, a close friend of Mr. Charest.

Breach of trust, fraud and conspiracy are among the criminal activities being investigated. Ms. Normandeau denied the allegations. Meanwhile, a cloud of suspicious hangs over the newly elected Liberal caucus where, according to a Radio-Canada report, one its members was named as being implicated in the police investigation.

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"I don't believe it is true. I have no information at all on this," Mr. Couillard said just moments before the swearing-in ceremony.

The Parti Québécois, which suffered a devastating loss in the April 7 election, said the police revelations should have been made public before the vote, suggesting they could have struck a fatal blow to the Liberal campaign.

Interim PQ leader Stéphane Bédard urged Mr. Couillard to come clean and to make sure all information about questionable fundraising activities regarding past and present Liberal members be made public.

"Is it over? Does it still exist?" Mr. Bédard said. "It is important for him to say it and demonstrate that he is transparent and to make sure the investigations continue unimpeded."

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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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