NEWS
03/31/2016 18:52 EDT | Updated 04/01/2017 01:12 EDT

Sam Hamad received donations from firm tied to Marc-Yvan Côté

A string of emails obtained by Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête show former Liberal politician and disgraced party fundraiser Marc-Yvan Côté helped raise political financing for veteran Liberal cabinet minister Sam Hamad, currently president of the Quebec Treasury Board.

The emails demonstrate that for his part, Hamad was a source of strategic information for Côté's firm and helped advance his agenda with the Charest government.

Until Côté was arrested on fraud and corruption charges two weeks ago, he was vice-chairman of the board of directors at Premier Tech, a company specializing in environmental technology and horticultural products, based in Rivière-du-Loup, Que.

In 2010, Premier Tech wanted to buy a competing firm, with financial help from Investissement Québec – the province's business development agency.

Premier Tech is considered an economic powerhouse in the Lower Saint-Lawrence region and has received dozens of millions of dollars in grants from both the province of Quebec and the federal government.

Internal company emails show Hamad, who was labour minister at the time, pushed hard to get government help for Premier Tech and provided confidential information on the Treasury Board's deliberations.

- From: Yves Goudreau (vice-president, corporate development, Premier Tech):

- To : Marc-Yvan Côté (vice-chairman of the board, Premier Tech)

- To : Jean Bélanger (president and C.E.O, Premier Tech)

"The lady of the Treasury Board is not easy in these difficult budgetary times and did not fold, even with pressure from certain people close to PT (Premier Tech).

We've got to go for the ultimate solution: Mr. Charest. When we look at the attitudes of the president of IQ (Investissement Québec) and the lady of the Treasury Board (Michelle Courchesne), there's no other choice. What do you think M-Y (Marc-Yvan)?"

- From: Marc-Yvan Côté (vice-chairman of the board, Premier Tech)

- To: Yves Goudreau (vice-president, corporate development, Premier Tech)

- To: Jean Bélanger (president and C.E.O., Premier Tech)

"Jean, I remind you that Sam offered his help to convince the Treasury. Sam sits at the board, which isn't the case with all ministers. I'm waiting for Sam to get back to me by the end of the day. He'll speak to Daoust* and maybe Bazin**. When we next move, it will have to be systematic, co-ordinated and muscular, as high up in the state as we can go (…) Jean, as we convened yesterday, I'll report to you as soon as I hear back from Sam.

Marc-Yvan Côté

*Jacques Daoust was the president of Investissement Québec

** Jean Bazin was chairman of the board of Quebec's investment agency, the Société Générale de Financement. The SGF was merging with Investissement Québec at the time.

Back and forth

The morning after this email exchange, Côté got in touch with his Premier Tech colleagues again.

Côté informed them that "his friend" (Hamad) had reported the results of two calls he'd made to the Minister of Economic Development, Clément Gignac, and the president of Investissement Québec, Jacques Daoust.

- From: Marc-Yvan Côté (vice-chairman of the board, Premier Tech)

- To: Jean Bélanger (president and C.E.O, Premier Tech)

"My friend just reported to me about two phone calls made today. He first spoke to Daoust…

The second phone call was to Gignac…" (…)

That email's conclusion shows the secretive nature of these calls.

"P.S.," it said, "I'm sending this only to you in order to protect our friend."

Unlike his colleague Yves Goudreau, Côté never declared himself as a lobbyist for Premier Tech.

'They broke the lobbying law in Quebec'

CBC/Radio-Canada showed these emails to Denis Saint-Martin, a political science professor at Université de Montréal.

"There is clearly a breach in the rules," Saint-Martin said. "They broke the lobbying law in Quebec."

"The law does apply retrospectively, and I believe the lobbying commissioner would be well within their right to investigate this affair in greater detail."

Saint-Martin said there are problems in how some information was shared.

"The worst is that the emails show Mr. Côté and some directors of the Premier Tech company had privileged information about the ministers discussing the project to support this company."

In the end, Premier Tech did not need Investissement Québec's participation, and its plans to acquire another company were abandoned.

Hamad named economic development minister

Former premier Jean Charest named Hamad minister of economic development in September 2011.

At that time, Premier Tech returned to the government with requests for financing, both from Investissement Québec as well as from Hamad's ministry.

Two and a half months later, in January 2012, Premier Tech received positive responses to both its requests. However, the company wanted more money, and in an email to his colleagues, Côté wrote that he would "start the process."

A week later, in an email from Côté to the president of Premier Tech, Côté reported having had breakfast with Hamad. 

- From: Marc-Yvan Côté (vice-chairman of the board, Premier Tech)

- To: Jean Bélanger (president and C.E.O., Premier Tech )

"At 7 a.m. this morning I met our friend for an update. I'm going to try to reach you later to tell you the state of things. I want to do it on a regular phone call."

The next morning, Hamad's assistant chief of staff wrote to Premier Tech vice-president of corporate development, Yves Goudreau.

- From: Sam Hamad's assistant chief of staff

- To: Yves Goudreau (vice-president, corporate development, Premier Tech)

"We worked hard, you'll get news from the regular channel soon."

- From: Yves Goudreau ((v.p., corporate development, Premier Tech)

- To: Sam Hamad's assistant chief of staff

"Positive-negative?"

Hamad's assistant chief of staff answered, briefly: "We started from very little, but we worked very hard to avoid the status quo."

Premier Tech gets its funding

On May 7, 2012, then-premier Jean Charest officially announced Investissement Québec's $11-million loan, as well as an $8-million grant from the Economic Development Ministry.

Hamad was present at the announcement.

This help from Quebec was in addition to financial assistance the company received from the federal government. Premier Tech committed to create 100 jobs, and it told CBC/Radio-Canada it had largely surpassed its objective.

For political scientist Denis Saint-Martin, Côté's privileged access to Hamad was significant.

"He (Sam Hamad) was not very careful, and he was in a conflict of interest."

Saint-Martin said the  Enquête investigation reveals a big problem.

"If entrepreneurs have the impression they can gain political connections to advance their economic interests, this creates a problem, making entrepreneurs depend on politicians for things they could get without political connections. Because they've got good projects they could make happen without a political boost," he concludes.

The backdrop: political financing

Among the emails obtained in this investigation is one dated September 2008.

Yves Goudreau and Marc-Yvan Côté wrote to each other about a fundraising cocktail for Sam Hamad's riding.

- From: Yves Goudreau (vice-president, corporate development, Premier Tech)

- To:  Marc-Yvan Côté

"For Sam's fundraising evening: did we finance because I never got an ask?"

Yves

- From : Marc-Yvan Côté

- To: Yves Goudreau (vice-president, corporate development, Premier Tech)

"For Sam's cocktail, there has to be a significant contribution. I intend to speak about it to Mr. Bélanger tomorrow."

Marc-Yvan

According to our research, some Premier Tech directors and administrators and their family members donated more than $20,000 to the Quebec Liberal Party between 2008 and 2012.

Some made their donations in Hamad's riding, even though they do not live there.

Côté and his immediate family gave more than $17,000 to the provincial Liberal Party in the same timeframe.

In answering CBC/Radio-Canada's questions, Premier Tech president Jean Bélanger conceded Côté should have registered as a lobbyist. Bélanger stressed that Côté quit the company following his arrest two weeks ago.

Premier Tech also said the contributions of its directors and family members were marginal and legal, and the company did not know about the contributions made by Côté and his family.

Enquête's full story will air tonight at 9 p.m. ET on Ici Radio-Canada Télé, in French.