05/27/2013 08:38 EDT | Updated 07/27/2013 05:12 EDT

Political donations from Quebec firm's employees raise questions

Quebec's chief electoral officer has raised questions about political contributions to two federal parties.

The questions concern clusters of donations by some 40 associates of a Quebec accounting firm to both the Conservative Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada.

As well, an analysis of contributions on the Elections Canada website shows that on Dec. 28, 2007, at least 50 members of the accounting firm Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton made donations to the Conservative riding association in Pontiac, Que., even though none of the firm's employees were from the Pontiac region.

That riding was represented by Lawrence Cannon, who was elected as Pontiac's MP in 2006. Cannon was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Quebec lieutenant and the minister of transport, infrastructure and communities until his defeat in the 2011 election, and is now ambassador to France.

Timing of donations 'troubling'

Later, on Dec. 31, 2009, another 40 associates of the same firm contributed to the federal Conservative Party. Then, many of the same associates contributed to the Liberal Party of Canada on Feb. 28, 2010.

According to François Rocher, the director of the University of Ottawa’s school of political studies, these donations aren’t illegal in and of themselves, because they come from individuals.

"What is, I would say, a little troubling is to see that many of these partners contributed the same day," Rocher said.

He underlined that corporate donations to political parties are prohibited.

"We can ask ourselves if all of this is part of a company's strategy to make itself known by political parties and eventually receive benefits as a result of these significant contributions. From this point of view, obviously, it would contravene the principles and spirit of Canada's electoral law," Rocher said.

The management of Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton declined to comment on its associates' donations because, according to the company, they were of a personal nature and had nothing to do with the business.

However, a member of the accounting firm told CBC that the partners would sometimes contribute in a bloc to draw attention to their firm.

"Calls for public tenders, it's OK. We see them pass through [the public tender system] and it's up to us to act accordingly. But where it becomes annoying is regarding sole-sourced contracts. We want to be known by the people who give those contracts. And then there are tenders by invitation. If we aren't known, we risk being passed up for our competitors," said the associate from Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton.

In Quebec, the chief electoral officer has opened investigations after revealing that employees of more than 500 businesses were making a concerted effort to fund political parties.

For its part, Elections Canada would not say whether such an investigation was underway at the federal level.