MONTREAL - Quebec's corruption inquiry is taking a break for the summer — and it might not be back until after the next provincial election.
The inquiry will return Sept. 17, which also happens to be the possible date of a Quebec election, should Premier Jean Charest decide to call a summer campaign.
That means the testimony delivered, so far, might be all Quebecers get to hear before they head to the polls.
So far the most sensational allegation came from a prominent civil servant who said 70 per cent of money raised by Quebec political parties is done illegally.
Ex-Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau, who also worked for the Quebec government as a corruption investigator, said "dirty money" is the norm in Quebec politics. He cited one vivid image relayed to him by one of his investigators: an unnamed municipal party was so flush with fundraising cash that it couldn't close the door of its safe, he said.
The inquiry is studying the construction industry, allegations of corrupt practices, and its financial ties to organized crime and political parties.
But Duchesneau's claims have prompted an aggressive pushback.
He has been grilled by lawyers for the Quebec government and the opposition Parti Quebecois, and been challenged to show evidence for his claims.
He has also been challenged over his use of anonymous sources — even references to anonymous wrongdoers — which can be almost impossible to scrutinize.
The grilling has been so intense that Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois said in Quebec City on Thursday the lawyer for her party is being told to moderate her tone. Speaking to reporters after the swearing in of a new PQ member of the legislature, Marois said lawyer Estelle Tremblay has "gone a bit far" and has no mandate to attack Duchesneau's credibility.
Duchesneau appeared to lose his patience Thursday after being asked for minute details of his work contract with the Quebec government. Questions ranged from the date his secretary's CV was sent to whether his office had access to a restroom.
Duchesneau snapped at the government lawyer asking the questions. None of his questions were about corruption — but focused instead on things like office logistics.
"The enemy is the people I spent 18 months tracking," Duchesneau said. "All these questions are really funny. We point out collusion to you, and what you're looking at is my finger — not where we should be going.
"That's what's sad."
One thing Duchesneau did not do during his testimony is deliver the anticipated gusher of names of suspected wrongdoers.
That might come later.
Duchesneau did name some companies he accused of anti-competitive practices in the construction industry. And he did table a 50-page report on alleged illegal practices in political fundraising. He authored the report on his own time, after leaving the Quebec government. Commission investigators will inspect that document. If its accuracy can be verified, it will be rendered public.
Meanwhile, the summer break might not spare the political class from the steady drip of awkward news.
There have been dozens of corruption-related arrests in recent months — including 11 on Thursday, of construction figures and municipal officials in towns south of Montreal.
One of those arrested was a Liberal party volunteer who, according to various reports, hosted Charest at his house for a 2003 fundraiser.
It's the second time in two months that the province's anti-corruption squad reportedly arrests someone who once hosted the premier at his house.
There was also a report Thursday by Radio-Canada that people tied to engineering companies, including employees and people close to them, gave $5 million to Quebec's major parties between 2001 and 2010.
A little under two-thirds of that sum went to the Liberals, who were govering for most of that time, while just under one-third went to the PQ.
According to Duchesneau, a "clandestine empire" is responsible for funding Quebec political parties and it includes construction-industry players keen to get a slice of government contracts. His critics are demanding that he come up with names or evidence.
Meanwhile, the premier was asked about Thursday's arrests by reporters covering his visit to Brazil's Rio environmental summit.
"When there are problems we correct them," Charest said.
"There is no quid-pro-quo with us (at the Liberal party)."
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