POLITICS
10/04/2011 11:28 EDT | Updated 12/04/2011 05:12 EST

Charest's Parisian trip dogged by talk of scandal back home in Quebec

PARIS - Jean Charest can leave the continent — but is finding it harder to leave behind Quebec's construction scandal.

The premier was asked in Paris on Tuesday about two stories back home related to the corruption controversy.

The first topic to dog Charest was the resignation of his longtime speechwriter.

Patrice Servant reportedly declared he could no longer, in good conscience, continue working for the government unless it called a public inquiry into the construction scandal.

After working for Charest throughout his eight years in office, Servant was quoted saying he felt uncomfortable relaying an opinion that violated the public interest.

Charest downplayed the resignation.

"Careful, there,'' Charest said. ''Mr. Servant is under contract with us and had already hinted that he wanted to take a break. You need to be careful with those kinds of things."<

The premier added: "In a government, nobody is ever 100 per cent in agreement with all the decisions (made)."

The second story to bedevil Charest was the public rift in the province's anti-collusion unit.

Charest was asked about the tiff between the head of the unit, Robert Lafreniere, and his most high-profile employee — ex-Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau.

Duchesneau has called for an inquiry into corruption involving political parties, construction companies and organized crime groups like the Mafia. He has also suggested the unit should be led by someone other than a current police officer, which is perceived as a shot at Lafreniere.

Lafreniere responded by saying there should be no inquiry because it could contaminate evidence in ongoing investigations. He also says he intends to have a frank discussion with Duchesneau.

The premier rejected the suggestion that Lafreniere was doing his political bidding.

"I'm not asking Mr. Lafreniere to say or not say what we want to hear," Charest said. "I didn't ask Mr. Lafreniere anything. Mr. Lafreniere does his job."

The premier has just begun a 10-day trip to France and Spain.

His trip, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Quebec's diplomatic mission in France and to promote the province's plan for northern economic development, comes at a sensitive time.

The government has been sideswiped by the construction controversy; now, with Charest and one of his ministers out of the country, the Liberal government has only a two-seat majority in the legislature.