Wednesday, May 11, 2005

It Just gets Worse

From today?s Globe & Mail by Tu Thanh Ha

MONTREAL -- Marc-Yvan Côté, the Liberals' top organizer for eastern Quebec, distributed $60,000 in cash to several party candidates gathered in Shawinigan for the launch of Jean Chrétien's riding campaign in the 1997 election, the Gomery inquiry heard yesterday.

Mr. Côté's testimony came after another Liberal executive, Benoît Corbeil, testified that the $50,000 cash payments he gave to eight election workers in the 2000 election paled next to broader, illicit operations that the party routinely deployed during federal votes.

Mr. Corbeil said that during the 2000 election, 30 people he called "fake volunteers" ran a parallel campaign, working in a special area of the Quebec wing's Montreal headquarters that he referred to as "the undeclared section."

Mr. Chrétien's riding was among those that benefited from special attention in that campaign, Mr. Corbeil said, as were those of eventual cabinet ministers Denis Coderre and Hélène Scherrer. All the ridings were won by Liberals.

? Earlier yesterday, Mr. Corbeil, the Quebec wing's director general from 1998 to 2001, told the inquiry that during the 2000 election there was a parallel campaign operation that focused on some key ridings, flooding them with extra campaign workers and resources.

The ridings that he mentioned included Saint-Maurice (won by Mr. Chrétien), Bourassa (won by Mr. Coderre), Verdun (won by Raymond Lavigne) and Louis-Hébert (won by Ms. Scherrer). Mr. Corbeil had previously said he distributed $50,000 in cash to pay eight party officials during that election.

"I'm convinced everyone knew because of the way the office was set up," Mr. Corbeil said."There were two sections. There was the declared section where I worked. There was the undeclared section. There was an influx of several, about 30, false volunteers."

Among them, he said, were several aides and even the receptionist of public works minister of the time, Alfonso Gagliano, the party's chief organizer in Quebec.
Answering questions from his lawyer, Guy Bertrand, Mr. Corbeil said the Liberal strategy of visibility in Quebec was aimed at eliminating their Conservative rivals and making voters associate the Liberal Party with Canada.

But Judge Gomery and other lawyers curtailed Mr. Bertrand's line of questioning, saying he was getting out of the inquiry's focus on sponsorships and advertising contracts.

Meanwhile, a senior official in Premier Jean Charest's government, resigned yesterday over allegations that money from the controversial sponsorship program was funnelled into the Quebec Liberal's 1998 provincial election campaign.

Luc Bastien, who was chief of staff for provincial Justice Minister Yvon Marcoux, resigned over reports that he received $10,000 from Bernard Thiboutot's firm Commando Marketing to help prepare Mr. Charest's election campaign.


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