Marc Bellemare remembers the sponsorship scandal (or does he?)

Perhaps the most impressive part of Marc Bellemare’s testimony at the Bastarache commission is the former Justice Minister’s seemingly infallible memory. Bellemare has been able to recall specific conversations on specific dates, not to mention many other innocuous details about his time in government—the brand of sparkling water he was served by Charest, the outcome of Montreal Canadiens’ hockey games, etc.

All of which makes it difficult to make sense of this exchange between Bellemare and the commission’s chief prosecutor, Giuseppe Battista, concerning Marc Bisson’s nomination as a judge for the Court of Quebec (see pp. 93-95 of the transcript):

Bellemare: […] and [Liberal MNA] Norm MacMillan had also told me in August 2003 that Bisson the father was a delicate subject. The Auditor General’s report into the Gomery affair had been produced—I think it was in mid-February 2003, just before the election—and Mr. Guy Bisson, the father, was, apparently involved in that story, so we had to be careful. The father…

Battista: Who told you that?

Bellemare: Norm MacMillan and Franco Fava

Battista: Okay.

Bellemare: But not at the same time.

Battista: What did you have to be careful about?

Bellemare: Because Guy Bisson was involved in… with the sponsorship scandal.

Battista: And? What does…

Bellemare: Well, that he… that it was delicate because… for him and for the father, because he might be investigated and he might eventually have to testify before Gomery. Because Judge Gomery’s mandate had been confirmed, but the hearings hadn’t happened yet. I was being told to be careful because the father…. but with the son, there was no problem.

There’s a serious problem with the timeline here. The Auditor General’s report wasn’t released in February 2003, but on February 10, 2004—nearly three months after Bisson’s nomination was confirmed by the Charest government on November 26, 2003. (The Gomery inquiry was announced February 11, 2004.)

While it’s true the A-G’s investigation was well underway by then—a spokesperson for the A-G’s office confirmed to Maclean’s the investigation took about 18 months—there isn’t a single mention of Guy Bisson in Sheila Fraser’s report. In fact, Bisson’s name didn’t come up in connection with the sponsorship scandal until March 2005. By then, Bellemare had been out of government for nearly a year and was meeting with… the very same Franco Fava mentioned above to see if the Liberal organizer would help him raise money for his run for mayor of Quebec City.

[Hat tip to The Globe‘s Daniel Leblanc for hinting at the inconsistencies early Tuesday. Read his take on it here.]

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