MONTREAL – A former Quebec transport minister who has been a member of the legislature for 13 years said Wednesday she has never been involved in political financing.
Julie Boulet became the first sitting provincial politician to take the stand at the Charbonneau Commission.
The inquiry, which is examining allegations of corruption in the awarding of public construction contracts and links to political financing, has been looking more closely at the provincial level in recent weeks.
“I had total confidence in these people.”
Boulet told the commission that since first being elected to the legislature in 2001 she has never sold a Liberal party membership card, never sold a fundraiser ticket and never called a company for donations.
A construction boss who was critical of political financing involving the transport minister’s office under all political parties mentioned Boulet’s name in his testimony this week.
Louis Marchand of Maskimo told the inquiry he declined an invitation from Boulet’s office in 2004 to attend a $1,000 fundraiser. He said he wasn’t happy with the number of contracts he was getting from the department.
He claimed his decision not to attend earned him a call from Boulet herself to express her disappointment.
Boulet testified Wednesday she did in fact call him but said it was not to pressure him. Rather, she said, she wanted to know if there was any particular reason he didn’t want to attend.
“I went when I had no choice.”
She also told the commission she had only a rough idea about how much events in her riding brought in and said she was even completely unaware of her own party’s political financing objectives.
“I’ve never done political financing,” said Boulet, who was junior transport minister between 2003 and ’07 and transport minister from 2007 to 2010.
She said the task fell to an employee in her office. That staff member would consult a list of donors and invite them to attend fundraising events.
But Boulet knew little about specifics. Big ticket fundraisers in her riding were held twice a year and she insisted she never consulted the list of donors and had no idea who gave what amounts.
Boulet said she detested cocktail fundraisers and only went out of a sense of duty.
“I went when I had no choice,” Boulet said.
Boulet said she only found out about a $100,000 annual fundraising goal for each cabinet minister when former colleague Norman MacMillan publicly announced the figure in 2009.
She repeated on a number of occasions that her central Quebec riding was poor and there wasn’t a ton of fundraising dollars to go around.
Boulet also talked about her time overseeing the transport file and said that local politicians, all sitting members of the legislature, businesses and community groups often solicited her for Transport Department for help on projects.
She says she often deferred to Transport Department officials who had the expertise and training to answer the more technical aspects of the job.
And it was the bureaucrats who had final say.
“I never went against the experts from the department,” Boulet said. “I had total confidence in these people.”
She described herself as “hard-working, honest and rigorous” and said these characteristics led her into politics.
Boulet insisted she didn’t get into the political game to raise money for anyone, but rather to help people.
She was re-elected for a sixth mandate in last month’s provincewide vote but did not make it into Premier Philippe Couillard’s cabinet.
© The Canadian Press, 2014