Council rejects opposition motion that members with election finance issues be suspended
Despite news late last week that councillor and executive-committee member Virginie Dufour is finally being allowed to resume her duties following a recent brush with controversy, opposition council members continue to maintain that Dufour won’t be fully exonerated until a provincial inquiry has been completed.
Mayor Marc Demers’ office issued a statement on Friday last week, saying that Dufour “will remain on the executive-committee of the city” and is back on the committee once again.
After withdrawing from the caucus last November following the public disclosure of a recording on which her election campaign manager appeared to acknowledge the reimbursement of cash donations, Dufour, who represents the district of Sainte-Rose, claimed she was innocent of wrongdoing and asked the Quebec Director General of Elections to investigate.
In the recording, which was obtained by a francophone Montreal daily and dated from last July, Normand Cusson, who managed at least one of Fournier’s electoral campaigns, was heard speaking with his spouse about serving as a “frontman” for contributions made to Dufour, and how the amounts were reimbursed afterwards.
Citing DGEQ policy, Parti Laval councillor Claude Larochelle noted that the charge against Dufour amounts to electoral fraud and the potential penalty is disqualification from running in elections for five years
Under Canadian and Quebec electoral regulations, serving as a frontman to conceal the contributions of another person or organization is illegal. Penalties ranging up to $20,000 can be imposed on the donor as well as the candidate who refunds a donation.
Illegal financing issues
The issue of illegal campaign fundraising is an especially sensitive one in Laval. Former mayor Gilles Vaillancourt’s Parti PRO des Lavallois was found to have extensively used frontman fundraising tactics. Vaillancourt was convicted of corruption charges and sentenced to six years imprisonment in 2016. As well, six Parti PRO city councillors were censured by the DGEQ for engaging in illegal political financing practices.
On Jan. 13 during the second day of the monthly public city council webcast meeting, executive-committee vice-president Stéphane Boyer (who is currently acting as mayor while Marc Demers takes time off to tend to family issues) noted that virtually all the information regarding Dufour has come through the media.
Allegations ‘serious’: Boyer
While acknowledging during the council meeting that the allegations against Dufour “are serious,” Boyer said he disagreed fundamentally with a resolution tabled by the official opposition Parti Laval. The motion called for council to suspend from committees any city councillor who faces allegations of electoral financial irregularities, and that their committee renumeration also be suspended until the matter is settled.
Boyer suggested that underlying what was heard in the recording was a personal conflict between Fournier’s campaign manager and his wife, who is also heard in the recording, because “he [the campaign manager] was giving a lot of his time to Mme Dufour,” Boyer said.
“I don’t think this is something that it is up to us to deliberate on as a city council,” said Boyer, adding that the DGEQ is mandated to deal with campaign financing irregularities. “There are institutions that are mandated to deal with such situations and that can impose penalties if that becomes necessary.”
Parti Laval opposition councillor for Fabreville Claude Larochelle pointed out that the charge still pending against Dufour with the DGEQ amounts essentially to electoral fraud and that the potential penalty is disqualification from running in elections for five years.
He noted that the resolution tabled by Parti Laval leader Michel Trottier didn’t call for the resignation of Dufour. But Larochelle insisted Dufour should recuse herself for the time being from participating on committees, including some inter-municipal ones on which she represents the City of Laval, for the sake of the city’s reputation.
Winter parking motion defeated
During the same council session, a motion by opposition Action Laval city councillor for Chomedey Aglaia Revelakis, calling on the city to suspend its alternative street parking program during the provincial government’s curfew for COVID-19, was defeated by the administration with support from the Parti Laval.
“I am stunned that our proposal was voted on and rejected forthwith by the party of the mayor and even by Mr. Trottier,” Action Laval leader Sonia Baudelot said afterwards in a statement. “The provincial government is asking us all to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus, and so there are many more cars parked in Laval’s streets than would ordinarily be the case.” Revelakis stated, “We were suggesting a quick and temporary solution to this problem, which hopefully will become only a bad memory. All the same, the administration of Laval has in its hands all the resources necessary to do efficient snow removal, even without alternative parking, just as it is done in other cities in Quebec.”