Former Quebec environment minister Thomas Mulcair contradicted Premier Jean Charest's account of his role in the controversial Mount Orford project yesterday, saying he never endorsed the proposal to allow developers into the provincial park.
"I refused to sign any papers on that," Mulcair said in his first interview since his departure from the cabinet last month.
He said he advised the government on what it legally could and could not do but never endorsed the project.
"I told them the only ways that they could go, because I did tell them that it was illegal the way it was being proposed at first.
"I refused to sign off on it," he added. "I wouldn't make that proposal, and I didn't."
Mulcair's comments come one month after Charest suggested his former environment minister had agreed to the plan that would sell the 650-hectare ski and golf site to build condos.
Yesterday, Mulcair broke his self-imposed silence, speaking freely for the first time about the events that led to his departure from the cabinet Feb. 27.
After Charest bumped him from his job as environment minister, Mulcair quit the cabinet, refusing a demotion to the position of government services minister.
While Mulcair took pains yesterday to say he did not want to criticize Charest, the portrait that emerged was one of a minister and a premier on opposite sides of the ongoing battle between big business and the environment.
"No question," Mulcair replied when asked whether he thought Charest was heeding corporate interests. "That's part of what you've got to listen to, but you've also got to listen to the average person."
While the final meeting with Charest came like a bolt from the blue, Mulcair said, the tensions between the two men had been growing for some time.
"There were larger issues and there were smaller ones. Let's just say for the first two years things had gone swimmingly."
The problems began, Mulcair said, in August 2005 "in one particular file, and then there were several other (problems) over the course of last autumn."
One of them was the debate over the Rabaska project to build a liquefied natural gas terminal near Quebec City, Mulcair recounted.
Another clash between Mulcair and Charest occurred over Mulcair's decision to fight a proposal by soft-drink giant Coca-Cola to remove some of its containers from Quebec's recycling program.
"Mr. Charest called me to task directly on the Coca-Cola issue," Mulcair said. "You would have to ask him (why). I still don't understand. His exact words were, 'I'm (not) going to wake up in the morning and read things like that in the newspaper. You have to verify (it with us.)
"I said, 'Are you in the process of telling me that a minister who receives a call at 5 p.m. can't respond in their own dossier?'
"His answer was, 'I'm the one who is going to speak in the name of the government from now on.' "
Mulcair said Charest did not appreciate his very public dispute with former federal environment minister Stephane Dion over Quebec's role in meeting Canada's Kyoto accord commitments.
And Mulcair doesn't rule out the possibility that he might also have been bumped to make life easier for new Conservative Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, a former adviser to the Alberta government, which opposes Kyoto.
Describing his fateful meeting with Charest, Mulcair said it was "bizarre." He said Charest couldn't seem to look him in the eye and the premier's arms were tightly folded - body language those close to him have seen all too often when things are not going well.
After being told he was being bumped from environment and offered the government services portfolio, Mulcair asked for time to think about it. For more than 45 minutes, he consulted those closest to him, he said, and all agreed he should turn it down.
"I went back in and I saw Mr. Charest and I said, 'Look, obviously after the amount of work that I've done and the results that I've obtained, I'm not going to accept that.'
"I did say one (other) thing to him: 'You're doing the same thing to me that you did to (former finance minister Yves) Seguin.' I said, 'You simply cannot stand having people around you who won't tell you what you want to hear.' That was the last thing I said to him, and I haven't spoken to him since."
Mulcair was replaced as environment minister by Claude Bechard, MNA for Kamouraska-Temiscouata.
As he left office, Mulcair said, the feelings swirling through his mind were actually more of relief than of anger.
"If I had to give you one word, it would be 'relieved,' because it was extremely frustrating in the last six months to try to move anything."
Mulcair said he will continue to serve as MNA for Chomedey and remains devoted to the Quebec Liberal Party. However, he is concerned about its current low showing in the polls.
Looking back over his three-year tenure, Mulcair said, many accomplishments stand out, especially the government's sustainable development bill, which makes a clean environment the right of all Quebecers.
The bill, said Mulcair, will provide a framework for managing big environmental decisions that will serve the province for decades.
I didn't Ok Orford: Mulcair
Ex-environment minister speaks freely of events that led him to quit cabinet