Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Michael Fortier and Why a Fund Raiser Should Never Head up Public Works

When Stephen Harper fast tracked Michael Fortier into a senate post, then made him head of public works, jaws dropped.

Not only was it a departure from Conservative, Reform and Alliance Policy, it broke a direct promise that Stephen Harper had made on Radio-Canada during the election campaign.

He swore emphatically that he would never appoint a senator or name an unelected person to cabinet.

We're so used to his lies now, that it no longer matters, but there were many problems with this appointment, that go beyond simple lying.

As a Senator, Fortier was not allowed to attend Question Period, to respond to questions from the opposition parties in the House, even though his department spent several billion dollars a years.

It reeked of patronage, since Fortier was a former colleague of Brian Mulroney, when they both worked at the law firm of Ogilvy Renault, and was also the co-chair of Harper's campaign to lead the new Conservative Party in 2003.

But perhaps the worst conflict of interest was the fact that Fortier was the co-chair of the entire 2006 Conservative campaign. Even if it was completely above board, which I doubt, it really looked bad. I mean think about it. He solicits campaign contributions for the Party and then is in a position to return favours. Hmmmm.

So when his name popped up in the Maxime Bernier scandal, I wasn't at all surprised. His aide, Bernard Cote took the fall, but it appears that if you want to work for a Conservative MP it means you have to be prepared to take a political bullet for them. Cote got it right between the eyes.

Mr. Cote was also a former romantic interest of Julie Couillard and apparently put the pressure on Monte Solberg to hire her mother, in a position she seems to have doubtful qualifications for. However, it was his connections to Couillard`s employer, Groupe Kevlar, that landed him in hot water.

Couillard affair trips top Tory aide
Toronto StarJune 11, 2008
Tonda MacCharles in Ottawa
Sean Gordon in Montreal

The tangled web involving former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier's ex-girlfriend has ensnared another federal cabinet member.

Public Works Minister Michael Fortier dismissed senior Quebec adviser Bernard Côté yesterday after it emerged Côté had a romantic relationship with Julie Couillard last year. (Is there anyone she hasn' t dated?)

Because Couillard is officially listed as an "affiliated agent" of Groupe Kevlar Inc., a Montreal-based property development firm that is involved in at least one multimillion-dollar tender with the public works department, Fortier says he acted immediately to dispel the appearance of a conflict of interest.Fortier told the Star "this matter was only brought to my attention today, June 10."

"Mr. Bernard Côté failed to inform me that while he was in a personal relationship with Julie Couillard, at the same time she was also vying for government business for Kevlar and raised it with Mr. Côté," he said. "Mr. Côté should have recused himself of having any dealings with the matter at hand, which he unfortunately didn't." (Yeah, right)Fortier said Côté offered his resignation "and I accepted it." (A lot of that going on in the Conservative government)

"I've insisted with all my political staff that they disclose any dealings with suppliers in the context of matters being the subject of requests for proposals (or any other request leading to a request for proposal)," he said. Sources said Fortier summoned Côté after receiving a phone call from a La Presse reporter seeking comment on the link between Côté and Couillard.

After confirming he dated Couillard, Côté was asked to clean out his desk, a source said.

Côté was a special assistant in charge of Fortier's Montreal office. Côté twice had unsuccessful runs for the Progressive Conservatives – in the 2000 federal election in the southwest Montreal riding of Verdun, and in a 2002 by-election in Jeanne-LeBer – and was a former national vice-president of the now-defunct party.

Before joining Fortier's office, he worked as a commercial real estate broker and property manager. Friends say he and Couillard briefly dated in the spring of 2007 – shortly before she was introduced to Bernier at a Montreal dinner.

"He feels terrible. Bernard's a very ... upright guy. He knew his name would probably come up. Now he's worried he's going to be dragged through the mud," said a Conservative who has known Côté for more than a decade.The Star was unable to reach Côté for comment. A phone call to Couillard went unreturned.Bernier resigned last month hours before the airing of a TV interview in which Couillard revealed he had left sensitive documents at her house in Laval, Que., in mid-April.

She spoke at length about her past associations with underworld figures, including her romantic relationships with a loan shark who had close ties to the Hells Angels, her brief marriage to a full-patch member of the Rockers biker gang – an Angels puppet club – and a third live-in mate who was a truck hijacker who owed large debts to the Hells Angels and other criminal gangs.

She neglected to mention a fourth underworld person with whom she had romantic liaison: Montreal mafia figure Tony Volpato, whom she dated in the early 1990s.

The Quebec media have reported in recent days that Couillard's first brush with the Conservative party would have taken place in March or April of 2007 – around the same time Investissements immobiliers Kevlar, a subsidiary of Groupe Kevlar, began the preliminary stages of a bidding process for a multi-million dollar contract to build a 200,000-square-foot federal office building in downtown Quebec City.

According to sources, Couillard was first registered as a Kevlar affiliate agent in early April 2007 – around the time she dated Côté and shortly before she met Bernier.

Her permit was renewed this year, and as of yesterday was still in effect.

Last April, La Presse reported, Couillard attended a fundraising cocktail party in Châteauguay-Saint-Constant, a riding on Montreal's south shore, making a $1,000 contribution to the party. Le Devoir reported yesterday that Fortier was at the party.

The event's organizer told the paper that Couillard handed him a Kevlar business card at the cocktail party, but that he remembered her mostly because the $1,000 cheque bounced.

Groupe Kevlar issued a press release on May 27 indicating that Couillard "is not an employee of Investissements immobiliers Kevlar and has never been." It said the company had agreed to serve as an affiliated sponsor for Couillard so she could qualify for membership in the provincial commercial realtors' association, and would have vetted any transactions she had brought their way. The Star could not reach Kevlar president René Bellerive for comment yesterday.

No comments:

Post a Comment