It was to say the least, the biggest political blunder in the history of the Liberal party.
He might perhaps have taken the advice of the man he replaced, Jean Chretien, who advised him to sweep the whole thing under the carpet, even if it made an awfully large lump!
The forces unleashed by that decision, the Gomery Commission, led to the utter destruction of the Liberal party as a national force and today it isn't clear if the party can bounce back.
This frightening scenario was not lost on Premier Charest and so he steadfastly refused to call a similar judicial inquiry in regards to the rampant corruption in Quebec's construction industry and despite the howling by opposition parties and the press, the Premier stood firm.
It took a lot of gumption and intestinal fortitude to resist, but resist he did.
In order to fob off those demanding that something be done, the Premier did order some limited action, hiring a former police chief to investigate construction contracts awarded by the government's Ministry of Transport.
The inquiry got off to a rocky start with the press attacking Jacques Duchesneau over a phony ethics allegation that I promised readers was unfounded, in blog piece that I wrote at the time.
I worked with Jacques Duchesneau for a number of years and can attest to his stellar credentials as an honest cop and alerted readers to the underhanded smear campaign.
And so, the inquiry suffered a setback when Duchesneau was forced to take a leave of absence during the investigation over those allegations, which as I predicted, vindicated him completely.
After his return, Duchesneau undertook a painstaking examination of the contract process at the MTQ, using the tried and true investigative method favoured by the police.
After a year and a half of silent plodding, the results of the inquiry are in and will hopefully be published sometime in the near future, although details have already been leaked. LINK
Duchesneau delivers a shocking indictment that connects corrupt construction firms to the corrupt engineering firms that oversaw the contracts on behalf of the Ministry of Transport, with padded and fictitious bills routinely authorized, creating millions of dollars in false billings.
It paints the very worst of pictures, because for corruption to become entrenched, dishonesty must transcend the different entities and levels of responsibility. This is unfortunately, clearly the case.
The problem is so dramatic and the corruption so pervasive that it has actually invaded the Canada Revenue Agency with the shocking revelations that tax agents were partying quite openly with the construction companies they were supposed to audit! Link
Of course the press is trying to link all this to the Charest government, but from what I see and hear, there is no smoking gun.
In fact, I can assure readers than the Premier is not particularly upset with the report and is actually looking forward to its publication, so assured is he that the fallout will be minimal, considering what could have been!
Expect the Ministry of Transport to take the fall for the corruption on the government side, with several high and low ranking employees to be thrown under the bus.
And so Premier Charest will blow the whistle over corruption at the MTQ, doing his best imitation of Capitaine Louis Renault (from the film classic, Casablanca,) feigning shock and horror at the hitherto unbeknownst goings-on!
Mr. Charest may just have pulled off another coup, rescuing himself and his party in the face of another certain disaster....again.
|A sigh of relief?|
The opposition parties and the press will accuse the Charest government of being in cahoots with the crooks, but with his usual aplomb, Charest will shrug it all off with the claim that it is he and the Liberal party that is fighting institutional corruption that has nothing to do with the government.
It will be a war that the Premier will probably win, he is just too expert in the fine art of political rope-a-dope. His greatest asset is his sang-froid in the face of political adversity and his rock-solid ability to stand his ground silently while lesser men would turn and run.
We all witnessed his drag-em-out victory over Marc Bellemare over allegations of political tampering in the selection of judges. Although hurt by some pretty damning evidence, Charest remained bloodied but victorious while Bellemare was utterly destroyed and the issue buried.
There will be lots of sound and fury once the report drops.
Not since the Cliche Commission back in the early seventies, when the ugly truth of corruption in the construction industry was laid bare, will Quebecers get an inside look at corruption. It will be dramatic.
Heads will roll and criminal charges will be laid.
But this observer is telling you that while Charest may not come out of it smelling like a rose, all things remaining equal, he will survive intact....again.