Conservative candidates in Quebec paid for scam election calls elsewhere in Canada. Out of money they got from Toronto.
Finally, Quebeckers can say they played some part in the scheme that misled Liberal voters by the thousands to non-existent polling stations on May 2.
For a while we wondered if the scammers had forgotten about us. Everything was happening in the rest of Canada. Nothing in Quebec.
And then suddenly there was Pierre Poutine. He was one of us. It wasn’t much, just a cellphone number and an address on “Separatist Street” in Joliettte.
But at least it was Quebec. Ah, Poutine you saved the day and gave us our pride back. What’s a Conservative scam without at least some Quebeckers?
It was the brilliant Le Devoir journalist Hélène Buzzetti who broke the story.
Using the telephone – what else for this kind of story? - she established that money that helped pay for the Conservatives’ automated robocalls went through Quebec.
She called up Quebec conservative candidates one after another.
She had them singing like canaries in a mine after a while.
Bertin Denis, defeated Conservative candidate in Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, (that’s a trip in itself) admitted his campaign organization had paid $ 15 000.01 to the Toronto-based Responsive Marketing Group (RMG.)
Bertin Denis laid it out plainly. He was no more than a "mail box" for paying phone call bills to other parts of Canada. The party had sent him $55,000 but he had to write out a cheque to RMG for $15,000.01.
Money in, money out. (Sounds familiar?)
He couldn’t remember what the cheque to RMG was for.
A day later, after the right sort of guidance from Stephen Harper speaking in the House of Commons, Denis remembered. The cheque was for RMG services in his riding during the campaign.
It had all came back to him. Call it senior’s moment.
His official agent Ghislain Pelletier, had been most helpful. He told the reporter : "The company sent us the invoice and I paid it, on the recommendation of the party."
Same sort of business went on in Chicoutimi-Le Fjord.
The riding organization paid $15,000.01 to RMG. (We don’t know about that extra last penny. It probably means something. Maybe Stephen Harper knows.)
The Conservative candidate there was former journalist Carol Nero, who told the reporter he didn’t really know what the cheque to RMG was about.
Did he get his money’s worth?
"I can’t really say if I got my money’s worth or not."
(The life of a journalist is often like that.)
There were others involved in the in and out money. They included:
Sen. Larry Smith, the former Alouettes president, in Lac St. Louis-Dollard;
Michel-Eric Castonguay, in Montmorency-Charlevoix-Haute-Côte-Nord;
Pierre Paul-Hus in Louis-Hébert, except in his case it was a little different. His official agent, Martin Lemire explained that the Conservative Party had sent documentation because "it was more profitable than hiring volunteers."
In total, according to Elections Canada, 97 Conservative candidates across Canada, including 18 in Quebec, sent cheques to RMG or to other firms making telephone calls for the party.
There is one other thing to note. RMG's billings do not appear in the national organization’s election records. It’s probably better that way.
The Conservative Party pleaded guilty last November to charges of electoral fraud precisely because it gave campaign funds to its candidates in 2006, and took back some of the money in exchange for a receipt the ridings could claim as legitimate expenses from Elections Canada. The Conservative Party paid $52,000 in fines, but at least nobody went to jail.
The important thing for us Quebeckers to remember is that we were not forgotten by the federal Conservative party in the telephone scheme.
Now if we could just find that Pierre Poutine fellow, or even his “Separatist Street.”
Anybody out there from Joliette?