Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

A Lower Laurentian prefect praises the advantages of meeting ministers during fundraising evenings, even at the cost of $100.

Party financing: « We scored with ça », says a municipal elected official

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The prefect of the MRC des Basques, Bertin Denis (Archive photo)

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The prefect of the MRC des Basques sees no problem in paying $100 to the ruling party to meet a minister. Describing these meetings as “great opportunities”, Bertin Denis judges that the current debate on the participation of municipal elected officials in the financing of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is “futile and superficial”.

While the CAQ's fundraising activities raise ethical questions in the political class and unease is expressed among certain elected officials, Bertin Denis sees no ethical issue in untying the purse strings to meet a minister visiting the region. These financing practices serve, he defends, to fulfill his mandate of representing the region to the Council of Ministers.

There is no ethical contortion there! There’s something for everyone! They want to finance a political party, we have issues to advance, argues the prefect and mayor of Saint-Éloi, who maintains that these meetings are completely optional. They offer us an opportunity to go there, you don't have to go! You can refuse, you can go, but we're free!

The presence of ministers at fundraising evenings is permitted, but the Chief Electoral Officer (DGE) mentions that their presence must not constitute an advantage provided in exchange for a contribution.

It's a great opportunity that's been offered to us, I think. And we benefit from it, summarizes Bertin Denis, who points out in passing that he himself met several ministers in the past during fundraising evenings, activities which were profitable for him, he candidly admits. On a few occasions, I would tell you that we, in good French, scored with that.

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Two CAQ MPs are the target of investigations by the Commissioner ethics in political financing.

The elected official cites as an example the period when the Liberals were in power in the 2000s, particularly when Nathalie Normandeau was Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife. He said he made representations at the time for Quebec to position itself on the issue of the Club Appalaches, the last private hunting and fishing club in the province. Even if this file is, many years later, still awaiting a resolution, Bertin Denis considers having scored points on this subject by meeting the minister at the time.

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For the prefect of the MRC des Basques, who has contributed to the CAQ kitty every year since 2019, spending $100 to meet a minister represents a very small amount to invest in the advancement of projects. Bertin Denis recalls that the maximum annual amount that a citizen can donate each year increased from $3,000 to $1,000, then to $100 in recent years.

You can meet a minister, you pay $100. But two weeks later, you can meet another, and you no longer pay… You paid!

A quote from Bertin Denis, prefect of the MRC des Basques

Ultimately, Bertin Denis says he does not understand the media hubbub caused by these mayors and citizens who say they feel obliged to pay to meet a minister. I wonder who can be moved by this in the media. It's certainly not the oppositions [in Quebec]: they did it wall to wall, says the politician.

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Bertin Denis, in politics since the 1980s, maintains that contributing to a party's kitty is a common practice. (Archive photo)

Even more so, underlines Bertin Denis, than contributing to the party in power as an elected official , among other things to tighten the grip of a minister, is a practice that has been done since the world began. Since I've known about it, it's been done like this.

In recent months, several mayors have denounced this practice of paying to publicize or progress a file with a minister. The CAQ responded that no one is forcing anyone to meet members of the government cabinet.

Nevertheless, the Ethics Commissioner opened two investigations into two different CAQ deputies, precisely for having invited elected officials or citizens to participate in a fundraising cocktail in exchange for a sum of $100.

What we hope is that our files rise to the top of the pile, defends Bertin Denis. Is this a return of the favor, that? I think that we work for our population, for the mandates that have been entrusted to us as municipal elected officials. That's what we want to advance, we don't want to advance ourselves personally.

It may simply be a question of vision, but I find this debate futile and superficial.

A quote from Bertin Denis, prefect of the MRC des Basques

However, these comments did not resonate with the presidency of the Regional Table of Municipal Elected Officials of Bas-Saint-Laurent (TREMBSL). I have the impression that this is perhaps a way of doing politics that is from another era, says Bruno Paradis, also prefect of the MRC of La Mitis.

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“I imagine that at another time, it worked very well,” illustrates the prefect of the MRC of La Mitis, Bruno Paradis. (File photo)

I don't feel like there's any benefit [to] go there, but I can understand that some imagine that they want to take every possible chance to advance a file, nuance the elected official, who swears to have never felt a pressure or a need to meet ministers on these occasions.

The size of the territory does not allow the visiting minister to stop in each municipality either, evokes Bruno Paradis, saying he understands that some of his colleagues see these cocktails as an opportunity to raise awareness among decision-makers.

Even if he describes Quebec as a world leader in terms of financing political parties, Bruno Paradis calls for a reflection on the rules in force, something that the CAQ has said it is open to doing. So much the better if there is an opening, because we must move even more towards extremely high ethical standards.

Called to react, Élections Québec indicated that it would be ready to collaborate in order to clarify the application of the rules on political financing or to update the provisions of the Election Act in this area.

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