"Have you been on Tony Accurso's boat?"
Jean Charest repeated the question again and again to journalists Wednesday, as they pressed him to reveal whether any of his cabinet ministers had been on the luxury yacht of the construction magnate accused of fraud, conspiracy and corruption.
Mr. Charest was responding to an accusation repeated by Jacques Duchesneau, the corruption-fighting cop turned partisan pitbull who told a Montreal radio station Wednesday that members of Mr. Charest's cabinet have been on the infamous boat.
Mr. Charest said he polled his cabinet ministers when the allegation first came to light months ago. He said the answer was an emphatic "No." He then turned the tables: "Are there not rumours journalists went on Mr. Accurso's boat?"
The reporters onhand shuffled in awkward silence, not because any of them had been on the boat (none had, for the record) but because they're supposed to be the ones asking the questions.
"I'm profoundly saddened by the words of Mr. Duchesneau," Mr. Charest said. "There is no basis for this. Since when do we live in a society where Mr. Duchesneau can go around sullying people's names and finish by saying: 'I won't name names.'"
Mr. Accurso's yacht, The Touch, became an important symbol in Quebec's corruption scandal after it emerged Frank Zampino, then the right-hand man of Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay, had taken a ride as important city contracts were awarded to Mr. Accurso's firms. Mr. Zampino is also facing criminal charges.
Mr. Duchesneau, who joined the political fray as a candidate for Coalition Avenir Québec and has gained a reputation as a loose cannon, told radio host Paul Arcand that Liberal ministers had been on the yacht but that he couldn't name names for legal reasons.
Mr. Charest said Mr. Duchesneau is using bully tactics.