Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bellemare vs. Charest: A Classic Confrontation Between Principle and Self Interest

As the week begins and the former Minister of Justice, Marc Bellemare, faces interrogation from lawyers representing no less than the Quebec government, the Quebec Liberal Party, and of Quebec Premier Jean Charest concerning his allegations of influence peddling when it comes to the nomination of judges, it appears that we are witnessing the testimony of a somewhat politically naive individual taking the Premier to task for allowing naked self interest to take precedence over the principle of the independence of the judiciary.

As this melodrama plays out, I find it quite interesting to see how the media attempts to both discredit Bellemare and to normalize the situation. After all the allegations are quite serious: caving to the desires of fundraisers to have their candidates named to the bench. Consequently, headlines read that "Bellemare is Contradicted" and "Bellemare Stumbles Upon Questioning" and unflattering appraisals of his character appear in the op-ed sections of Quebec newspapers. At the same time, political analysts assert that no real harm has occurred since the judges in question were deemed to be competent and that as Quebec Premier, Jean Charest had the prerogative to intervene.

What is not being discussed at length is the troublesome realization that if the Premier of the province allows himself to be influenced by his party's fundraisers in the sacrosanct nomination of judges that this indicates that the Charest government could be as lax or more-so in exercising its responsibility as steward of the public purse.

Case in point. In my region of the Outaouais, the Quebec Liberal Party's principle fundraiser, Guy Bisson, admitted to soliciting the support of the Liberal Minister responsible for the Outaouais and Minister for Transport, Norm MacMillan, to speak to Bellemare about having Mr. Bisson's son appointed to the bench. Mr. MacMillan also admitted publicly of having spoken to Bellemare.

Here's where it gets interesting. In his testimony, Bellemare asserts that it was Franco Favo, the Quebec Liberal Party's principle fundraiser in the Quebec City region that was applying pressure to have Mr. Bisson's son named to the judiciary. As it turns out, one of Franco Favo's companies was awarded a contract by the Department of Transport to construct a highway running through MacMillan's riding and the riding of the ex-Minister of Labour, David Whissell. Furthermore, Favo's company subcontracted the work to construct an overpass to a company in which Mr. Whissell was a principle shareholder.

Looks like every one was managing to advance his self interest very well except for one thing. The overpass that Mr. Whissel's company built was deemed to be unsafe and had to be demolished and then replaced at a cost of more than a million dollars to the taxpayer. Oops!

These events indicate that perhaps the Quebec government has slid significantly down the slippery slope of not abiding to the principles of good government and suggest that there are sufficient grounds for a public inquiry.
Regardless of whether or not the nomination of judges during the Parti Quebecois's reign had been done in a similar fashion, rewarding the party faithful, there remains the larger issue of political patronage running amok. According to Bellemare, Premier Charest and Quebec's Liberal Party have on many occasions put their self interest before that of the public good.

In these increasingly cynical times, it is refreshing to see someone who has the courage to stand up and remind all of us that elected officials have an obligation to put aside their self interest and advance the common good.

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