Extra money for political leaders leaves a bad taste

Party payments for Charest and Dumont have led to rounds of mudslinging

Salaire des élus

Premier Jean Charest's polling numbers have gone up since last fall because he stopped looking for trouble in the form of controversial measures. But sometimes, trouble comes looking for you.
Charest hardly had time to bask in the warmth of the 97.2-per-cent confidence vote he received at the Liberal convention this month before he found himself on the defensive over another expression of appreciation from his party.
Early in the second morning after the convention, the Liberal party issued a communiqué disclosing that it had been paying Charest $75,000 a year since he became leader in 1998. He became premier five years later.

This is in addition to the salary Charest has been receiving from the National Assembly, currently $168,250, and the MNA's expense allowance, currently $14,811.
The party issued the communiqué after its immediate past president, Marc-André Blanchard, had confirmed to TVA reporter Robert Plouffe that the Liberals had been paying Charest an amount Blanchard did not disclose.
This is how Quebecers learned that it is apparently legal for the premier - or for that matter, any other MNA - to receive a salary from an outside source in addition to the one he gets from the Assembly.
And that their province has the dubious distinction of being the only Canadian jurisdiction in which legislators are not required by law to disclose outside sources of income.
It's hard to imagine how the additional salary makes Charest any more obligated than he already is to the party that got him his job in the first place, and on which he depends to keep it.
Still, the disclosure of what the Liberal Party called its "financial arrangement" with Charest raised some questions.
Why did they keep it a secret for 10 years, until a reporter found out about it? And if what they have already disclosed is all there is to their deal, why won't they release the contract between them?
Charest and the party said it's a private matter. But his party salary is publicly subsidized, both directly (parties receive an allowance out of public funds) and indirectly (their contributors are entitled to tax credits). And the public is entitled to know how its money is spent.
The chief electoral officer says the non-disclosure of the salary does not violate the letter of the financing rules in the Election Act. But it does violate their spirit, since they are supposed to ensure transparency.
There are other questions. Did the payments come out of the party's general fund? Or did the party serve as a conduit for contributions solicited for that specific purpose, and if so, does Charest know the identities of his benefactors?
Also, Blanchard said one reason for the extra payments to Charest is "to shield him from any undue pressure." Why was it necessary to "shield" Charest in particular, since none of his predecessors, at least since the introduction of the current political financing system 30 years ago, is known to have received a similar salary?
And the disclosure revived questions about Charest's motives in switching from federal to provincial politics. In the Assembly, the Parti Québécois alluded to unsubstantiated rumours that Charest had made the crossing on a "golden bridge" of financial incentives.
Liberal house leader Jean-Marc Fournier responded by counter-attacking. He brought up the generous severance agreement between the former PQ government and Claude Blanchet, the husband of PQ leader Pauline Marois, when Blanchet resigned as president of a government corporation.
This led to a round of mudslinging among the parties, including Action démocratique du Québec, which was forced to admit that it, too, pays its leader on the side (Mario Dumont gets an extra $50,000).
After a week, the Liberals and the PQ, at least, agreed to discuss a code of ethics that would require MNAs to disclose outside sources of income, while the ADQ remained unconvinced of the need for one.

By then, however, all parties had been smeared. And the public had been given another reason to be cynical about politics.

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