Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Access to ministers sought - and at least one aide too

This Couillard story is going so fast, it's on steroids at this point...

In the Star today, a report that Public Works Minister Michael Fortier has fired a top aide, Bernard Cote, as he had an affair with Couillard last year, just prior to her meeting Bernier:
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.

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."
The political wreckage continues to pile up. The Star elaborates on what the purported connection here would be between Couillard, Cote and Kevlar:
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. (emphasis added)
See, a whole new angle this morning. Conflict of interest and other, ahem, interesting new roads to travel down. Expanding Couillard's impact beyond Foreign Affairs to Public Works. Leaving open questions about what influence Cote had on Minister Fortier and decisions made in that ministry, if any.

The Star report would also explain why there has been this inconsistency in the stories between Couillard and Kevlar as to whether or not she did work for them. In light of the allegations, it's not a surprise that Kevlar would deny she worked for them.

The Globe this morning mentions the le Devoir report from yesterday in which Couillard was reported to be seeking access to ministers and attended a fundraiser at which Conservative Public Works Minister Michael Fortier appeared. That report is relevant not only in respect of the above information from the Star, but also to the notion of infiltration introduced at yesterday's hearing:
Le Devoir has reported that, in 2007, Ms. Couillard took part in a fundraising cocktail party for the Tory riding association of Châteauguay-Saint-Constant, south of Montreal.

The paper reported that she asked riding association president André Turcot if government officials and business people would attend, saying she wanted contacts for her real estate business – although the Montreal company she said she represented has denied that she worked for them.

Mr. Turcot told the paper she donated $1,000 – but the cheque bounced.
The cheque bouncing was highlighted by a Globe blogger yesterday, missing the larger point in the headline, "Julie Couillard voulait un accès aux ministres."

These developments are very bad news for the Conservatives in Quebec. Oh, and everywhere else too.

Aren't we just a bunch of gossipy old busybodies...