QUEBEC — The Coalition Avenir Québec says it’s prepared to end donations to political parties, after several CAQ members were accused of soliciting $100 donations from mayors hoping to meet with ministers.
Jean−François Roberge, the minister responsible for democratic institutions, raised that possibility on Wednesday amid strong criticism from opposition parties, which allege the governing party is monetizing access to its members.
The Canadian Press reported earlier this week that almost half of Quebec’s mayors have contributed to the governing party’s coffers since the 2021 municipal election, for a total of nearly $100,000.
But for things to change, Roberge says, the opposition parties would need to agree to end political donations, which are an important source of revenue for parties that have a small share of seats in the legislature.
"If the opposition wants us to reopen the discussion, if they are ready, if the opposition are ready, let’s all say, ’let’s forget about (donations),’" Roberge told reporters in Quebec City.
Under Quebec’s Election Act, only citizens — not legal entities such as companies or unions — can donate to political parties, and the maximum donation is $100 per year, with an extra $100 allowed for general elections or byelections. The Act specifies that donations can’t be given in order to gain a favour or an advantage.
In the place of donations, Quebec’s elections office pays political parties an annual allowance in proportion to the percentage of valid votes obtained in the last general election. The elections authority also pays parties matching funds based on the number of donations they receive.
Parti Québécois Leader Paul St−Pierre Plamondon, whose party is heavily reliant on donations, wrote on the X platform, formerly called Twitter, that the problem is not public contributions but rather "the dubious practices of monetizing access to ministers."
St−Pierre Plamondon said his party, despite having only four of the legislature’s 125 seats, collects the most donations and has enjoyed rising support: recent polls have put the PQ in first place ahead of the CAQ. In contrast, the Coalition Avenir Québec has 89 seats, which means it would collect the lion’s share of the funding under a purely public financing model.
"Clearly, the CAQ would like political financing to reflect the 2022 election results and not the opinion and mobilization of voters today," St−Pierre Plamondon wrote, adding that public donations are "an important means of democratic participation."
On Wednesday, Québec solidaire member Vincent Marissal asked the ethics commissioner to add CAQ legislature members Gilles Bélanger and Yves Montigny to the list of politicians being investigated, which already includes CAQ members Sylvain Lévesque and Louis−Charles Thouin.
The Canadian Press has seen a message Bélanger sent to mayors in the Memphremagog region, east of Montreal, last November, inviting them to an event attended by Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault in exchange for a $100 contribution. Montigny, according to Québec solidaire, made a similar pitch to an entrepreneur who was offered the chance to meet the province’s agriculture minister at a cocktail event.
In an email, Élections Québec confirmed to The Canadian Press that it is ready to clarify and tighten the rules around election financing. The organization said the presence of ministers at paid fundraisers can raise concerns, noting that the exchanges that take place "could result in a decision that appears to constitute an advantage provided in exchange for a contribution."
Speaking alongside Roberge on Wednesday, Education Minister Bernard Drainville said that people attending fundraising cocktails sometimes bring up files they want to advance, but he minimized the influence these brief conversations have.
"Do you really think that after two, three minutes, they’ll leave with a section of road, a bridge or a subsidy?" he said. "Is there anyone who thinks that in Quebec you can buy a minister with a $100 donation?"
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2024.
Patrice Bergeron, The Canadian Press