AG to probe allegations of collusion by UPAC, AMF
Ouellette says his arrest was deliberate plan to intimidate other MNAs
With politicians on all QUEBEC sides calling for Guy Ouellette to be heard, the government Monday announced it is sending in auditors to investigate allegations of collusion between the anti-corruption unit and Quebec’s financial regulator.
As the National Assembly struggles to get a grip on bombshell allegations made by Ouellette and a whistleblower, Annie Trudel, who alleged the collusion, three Couillard cabinet ministers scrambled into action, holding a news conference in Montreal saying they are taking the situation “very, very seriously.”
“Our concern is to maintain the trust and confidence of Quebecers in their institutions,” said Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux, one of the three ministers sent to bat. “And when you read things like this in the newspaper, when you listen to allegations (like these today), that confidence may be shaken.”
Not only is the province’s auditor general being sent in, Coiteux has also called a halt for now to the adoption of new legislation, Bill 107, designed to increase UPAC’s powers and independence by making it a specialized anti-corruption police force.
He specifically said he wants to take the time to beef up clauses that would impose accountability on UPAC — the same agency Ouellette claims is so obsessed with its own power that it is stalking him and Trudel and trying to intimidate politicians who question the way it operates.
Ouellette specifically fingers the president of UPAC, Robert Lafrenière, with whom he has been quarrelling for months. Until his arrest by UPAC last Wednesday as part of an investigation into leaks, Ouellette was chairman of the legislature’s powerful institutions committee, which overlooks UPAC’s work.
This brought him into direct conflict with Lafrenière on a regular basis, a problem that again dropped into Coiteux’s lap Monday after media revelations. Asked if he was still confident in UPAC and Lafrenière, Coiteux said he saw no reason not to be, but his answer was tempered, a signal to Ouellette that he has heard his message.
“Yes, I have confidence, but at the same time, I want to make sure everything is transparent,” Coiteux answered. “Quebecers will have legitimate questions and those questions need to be answered.
“Independence doesn’t mean you don’t have to be transparent.”
Ouellette — the MNA for Chomedey and a former Sûreté du Québec investigator — has been pushing for Bill 107 to include international ISO anti-corruption standards designed to quash bribery and ethical breaches, but Lafrenière has been resisting.
At the end of his tether following the arrest, Ouellette granted an interview with 98.5 FM radio. Recorded Friday, it was broadcast Monday.
“The events of this week lead me to believe that UPAC will do everything it can to muzzle me — muzzle a parliamentarian — so I cannot give my version or inform the population of all the intimidation tactics which are underway now in this same unit,” Ouellette said.
Ouellette granted the interview after he and Trudel sought refuge in Cogeco’s Montreal offices after realizing they were being followed by police after they had a meeting downtown.
Ouellette and Trudel said they feared they would soon both be stopped by police, so he wanted to get his story out. Trudel alleges she, too, was briefly arrested by police and questioned about the destruction of evidence, but the matter was dropped and she walked away.
Neither Ouellette nor Trudel have been charged with anything.
Ouellette told host Bernard Drainville what happened to him last Wednesday was part of a UPAC plan to tarnish his image. Why else would the media have been tipped off in advance? he said.
“Never in 100 years would I have believed I could have been framed like I was framed,” Ouellette said. “In 2017, I never thought it could happen to an elected official. I guess I am probably bothering the commissioner and his institution.”
While Ouellette flatly denied being the source of leaks to the Quebecor media chain, he said he is convinced his arrest was a deliberate plan to intimidate other MNAs who might ask too many questions.
“Do you think the 124 other MNAs are not shaking in their boots at the prospect of asking UPAC questions?” Ouellette said. “They (UPAC) brought down the chairman of the institutions commission.”
Going further, he charged that UPAC forced the government’s hand to renew Lafrenière’s mandate by arresting former Liberal cabinet minister Nathalie Normandeau on the same day as the 20162017 provincial budget as a sign of its power. Lafrenière’s renewal was up for discussion a few days later.
Ouellette said it is no coincidence that he was arrested just days after he handed Premier Philippe Couillard an eight-page analysis in which he suggested the new UPAC be subject to the ISO anti-corruption code itself.
The comments again rocked Quebec’s political class, but Coiteux said the government isn’t considering suspending UPAC’s activities, or Lafrenière, while the allegations are being verified.
“We’re taking the allegations very seriously and taking care of them to ensure the trust of the population,” he said. “But that does not call into question the work done by UPAC and the investigations that are underway.”
Trudel, who made her name exposing problems in the Transport Quebec ministry as an independent analyst, had her own blockbuster revelations, which also put her under the UPAC’s searchlights.
Trudel told the Journal de Montréal Monday the reason Ouellette was arrested is because he was about to make revelations about a connection between UPAC, l’Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF) and a firm of private consultants.
Trudel does not identify the firm, but alleges collusion between it and firms seeking government contracts.
Since 2013, firms seeking to bid on government contracts have to get clearance from the AMF. But according to Trudel, two companies seeking AMF clearance were referred to the consultants.
The firm charges astronomical fees, Trudel told the paper, in one case $600,000 and another $1 million.
Reaction was swift. In a strongly worded press release mid-morning Monday, the AMF said it was “categorically denying all allegations of collusion.”
“These allegations are not only false and totally gratuitous, they stain the reputation and integrity of everyone working at the AMF,” the statement said.
UPAC was maintaining radio silence Monday, but Ouellette’s revelations and the idea a sitting MNA could be intimidated set off alarm bells at the legislature.
Late Monday, Parti Québécois house leader Pascal Bérubé said the PQ will present a motion Tuesday that, if adopted, would allow Ouellette — who now sits as an independent with limited speaking rights — to address the legislature.
Guy Ouellette said in a radio interview that what happened to him last Wednesday was part of a UPAC plan to tarnish his image. Why else would the media have been tipped off in advance? he said.