Engineering giant SNC-Lavalin made nearly $118,000 in illegal political donations to federal political parties between 2004 and 2011, Elections Canada has revealed.
The Quebec-based firm has entered into a compliance agreement with the federal elections commissioner, admitting that the donations — mostly to the federal Liberal party — violated the Canada Elections Act.
The commissioner says the contributions were made to the Liberals and Conservatives between March 9, 2004, and May 1, 2011. That period spans the Liberal government under Paul Martin and the Conservative government under Stephen Harper.
According to the compliance agreement published Thursday, senior executives with SNC Lavalin solicited other employees to make political contributions, and in some cases, those employees were reimbursed “in the form of false refunds for personal expenses or payment of fictitious bonuses or other benefits.”
Family members of the employees are also alleged to have contributed and were reimbursed by the company in a similar manner. In essence, the donations were coming from SNC-Lavalin and not individual employees, which is not permitted under the Act.
“The (company) acknowledges and accepts responsibility for these acts,” the document reads.
“The (company) understands that its acknowledgement of non-compliance … does not constitute an admission of guilt under criminal law.”
Typically, a compliance agreement means there will be no formal charges against the offending party under the Elections Act.
The political parties have reimbursed the Receiver General of Canada for the donations.
None of the senior executives involved in the scheme are still employed by the company, the compliance agreement states, “and the new members of the (company’s) leadership team were in no way involved in the proscribed activities.”
The total amount covered by the donations between 2004 and 2011 was $117,803.49. That total breaks down as follows:
- $83,534.51 to the Liberal Party of Canada
- $13,552.13 to the various registered riding associations of the Liberal Party of Canada
- $12,529.12 to the contestants in the Liberal Party of Canada’s 2006 leadership race
- $3,137.73 to the Conservative Party of Canada
- $5,050.00 to various registered riding associations and candidates of the Conservative Party of Canada
The scheme allegedly used by the company at the federal level, known as the “straw-man” donation strategy, closely mirrors similar ones that were used by multiple engineering firms to donate to provincial parties in Quebec in the late 1990s and 2000s. SNC Lavalin alone is believed to have handed over $1 million in questionable contributions to Quebec’s various parties.
Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission inquiry examined these strategies in details over a two-year period of public hearings, but the commission’s mandate did not extend to examining federal donations.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that SNC-Lavalin had reimbursed the Receiver General of Canada for the illegal donations. In fact, the political parties and officials who received the donations have returned the donations involved. We regret the error.