Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

Municipal elected officials say they make political donations to the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) solely for the purpose of being able to meet government ministers. While some elected officials see no problem with it, others are calling for this way of doing things to be abolished.

Mayors feel obliged to contribute to the CAQ to meet a minister

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These fundraising cocktails are often, according to mayors, an opportunity to discuss with the minister present.

    < li class="mt-2 flex first:mt-0">Jean-Marc Belzile (View profile)Jean-Marc Belzile

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Wanting to take advantage of the visit of a minister to their region, several mayors made a donation to the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) in order to be able to participate in partisan evenings and thus obtain a discussion with the minister.

Unable to meet the ministers otherwise, these municipal elected officials therefore choose to pay $100 so you can present issues that are important to them.

In some cases, they are party activists, but others feel an obligation to attend for the good of their municipality.< /p>

It's very awkward, but the system is made like that.

A quote from Martin Ferron, mayor of Malartic

It's a little unhealthy, but that's the process. We should be automatically invited instead of being at the reception and being forced to take out our credit card and declare a donation. It puts us at odds. I have other things to do, seriously, than give money to a political party, mentions Mr. Ferron, who made $100 donations in 2019 and 2021 to the CAQ for this type of meetings.

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The mayor of Malartic , Martin Ferron. (File photo)

Martin Ferron was notably able to meet Minister Fitzgibbon in this way. He specifies that a donation made to the Liberal Party of Quebec in 2018 had the same objective.

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The mayor of Amos, Sébastien D'Astous, claims not to be a CAQ activist, but he nevertheless pays his $100 to the party every year since 2019. He claims that it is a personal donation made in the objective of meeting ministers as mayor.

If you want to have access to meetings with different ministers who come to the region, depending on the party, you have to be a member to access these meetings. These are political activities, but it is still a privileged moment to meet the big names of the different parties, explains Mayor D'Astous.

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Sébastien D'Astous, mayor of Amos. (File photo)

The mayor of Saint-Antonin in Bas-Saint-Laurent, Michel Nadeau, told us that he takes out his CAQ membership card each year solely with the objective of being able to meet ministers during activities organized by the left. Last June, Mr. Nadeau went to meet the Minister of Education, Bernard Drainville, during a fundraising cocktail in Rivière-du-Loup. He believes that this has been the approach for years.

Political financing activities have always existed. All parties must do it to raise money. The CAQ is not the first party to put its ministers forward to help with financing.

The cost to attend the various CAQ cocktails is generally to make a $100 donation to the political party. Sympathizers and people from the business community are also present.

The mayor of Rivière-du-Loup, Mario Bastille, indicates for his part that he is a donor of the CAQ out of personal conviction, but refuses to attend this type of meeting.

We must have transparent access to our ministers as part of our work and not in a local 5 to 7 while eating a bag of chips and having a drink.

A quote from Mario Bastille, mayor of Rivière-du-Loup

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The mayor of Rivière-du-Loup, Mario Bastille. (File photo)

It's as if tomorrow morning, in the City of Rivière-du-Loup, a citizen or business people said: ''We have a project or a problem, we need to meet our mayor and you would have to pay to meet your mayor. To me, that doesn't make sense. I understand that it is done, it is not illegal to do it, that is clear, but in my values, there is no question of me taking money out of my pockets or the City takes money out of its pockets to meet a minister, explains Mr. Bastille.

All the mayors claim to have used their personal money to carry out donations to the political party.

At the Prime Minister's Office, we assure you by email that the decision to attend a fundraising cocktail belongs to each person.

In no case do we force a mayor or mayor to attend a fundraising cocktail in order to meet and discuss with ministers, affirms Ewan Sauves, press secretary of François Legault.

Mr. Sauves specifies that elected officials can make a formal request to the cabinet concerned or to the local MP. Let us be clear: it is not necessary for them to purchase a CAQ membership card to have access to our elected officials ( e)s, he adds.

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Some fundraising cocktails are very busy. like this one which took place in Minister Fitzgibbon's riding in 2020.

The general director of the Coalition Avenir Québec, Brigitte Legault, did not did not wish to grant us an interview, but on the phone, she also assures that no one has ever been forced to attend this type of event.

Ms. Legault mentions not understanding why municipal elected officials say they take party membership cards to meet ministers. She maintains that elected officials have many other opportunities to meet ministers and that they often have numerous meetings with organizations and elected officials in the region where the fundraising activity in question takes place.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Professor at the National School of Public Administration and former Minister of Municipal Affairs in the Government of Quebec, Rémy Trudel believes that this situation is inappropriate and unhealthy.

There's a word to describe this phenomenon: it's called a trap. The person who is elected to a municipal council, in good faith for his municipality, will say yes, I will take a political party card and I will participate when there are costs to political activity, observes the former PQ MP for Rouyn-Noranda – Témiscamingue.

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Rémy Trudel, former PQ MP for Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue, former Minister of Municipal Affairs and now professor at the National School of Public Administration (ÉNAP).

Mr. Trudel also underlines the particular nature of the situation. The elected official cannot be reimbursed for this donation since it would be illegal. Elected officials then give in a personal capacity, but still say, in certain cases, that they are acting for the good of their municipality.

It is a fundamental element of our democracy. Elected officials who want to speak to elected officials, it's extremely simple, but what is unhealthy is to make them pay for membership in a political party and fees to participate in an activity, he points out, affirming that municipal elected officials should remain neutral and not support a particular political party. Mr. Trudel would like them to no longer be solicited in the future by political parties.

It would be interesting if elected officials were excluded from this method of financing. I like to keep my neutrality, but it’s as if I didn’t have any. This is what is not pleasant, because we work with the people who are in place, not with a party, explains Martin Ferron, specifying that donations made by individuals to political parties are now accessible to everyone on internet.

Collaboration and dialogue between elected officials at all levels of government are essential to democracy, for the benefit of citizens and citizens, and must be done at no cost, says Martin Damphousse, mayor of Varennes and president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec in a written response.

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The president of the UMQ, Martin Damphousse. (File photo)

Municipal elected officials told Radio-Canada that they also made donations for fundraising activities for the Liberal Party of Quebec and the Parti Québécois. The data available online also shows that several elected officials made donations when these parties were in power.

Some see in these donations a form of recognition for the work done by their local MP. This is the case of the mayor of La Malbaie, Michel Couturier, and the mayor of Chibougamau, Manon Cyr.

Wants, doesn't want, we develop links with the deputies who work with us. It becomes a collaboration. Obviously, the rules being what they are, they still have some fundraising to do, so when they ask us, I think it's a good sport, it's cordial, it's about respecting the people in place, to have a good collaboration with them. That's how I see it. I don't feel forced in any way, says Michel Couturier.

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The mayor of Chibougamau, Manon Cyr. (File photo)

People who know me know: when I have something to say to someone, whether they are a minister, an MP or a prime minister, I say what I have to say. I think it's important, says Manon Cyr, who maintains that making donations to the CAQ does not make it lose its autonomy or independence.

Ms. Cyr says she contributed to the CAQ in recent years to highlight the work of MP Denis Lamothe, just as she did previously with Liberal MP Jean Boucher.

I think that there are now some matches that have become too easy in our society. There is a lot of distrust, a lot of suspicion, but listen, if I agree with a member of parliament in power in my region, it is well beyond because I work with him or go to an activity of funding. It also happened to have major disagreements with deputies from my region, points out Michel Couturier.

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