What do you think of this?
Philippe Couillard, running ahead in the polls and seemingly on the way to forming a majority in the aftermath of the rapidly approaching election, has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar as it were.
M. Couillard apparently had put money he made practising as a neurosurgeon in Saudi Arabia in off-shore bank accounts to avoid paying income taxes on that money.
Bernard Drainville, Minister of Democratic Institutions and the person charged with the values charter dossier, was on the news Thursday night stating that the Quebec government – and hence, taxpayers in Quebec – spent $800,000 to educate M. Couillard so that he could practice neurosurgery and therefore that Couillard owes the government – if not legally, there is a moral obligation there – and should therefore have not avoided paying taxes on his Saudi earnings, whether this is legal or not.
Couillard didn’t break any laws here but that is not the point. There is the moral question which Drainville broached in the above statement he made to the media and I think he has something of a point.
There is a related issue which does call Couillard’s essential, underlying integrity into question and that is this: given the fact that Couillard must have known (if he had thought about it and if he hadn’t thought about it then how equipped is he to be Premier, an office which requires balanced foresight) … as I was saying we have to assume that he must have thought about having had those off-shore accounts and decided not do anything to correct that situation if that was even possible at that point – for one of the following two reasons: either he believed that nobody would find out about the fact that he had avoided paying income taxes on significant amounts of income in which case his basic practical intelligence has to be called into question or he thought that even if people found out about the off-shore accounts, no one would care enough to make a fuss which in turn calls his basic judgement into question.
He should definitely have gotten out in front of the situation, revealed that it had happened and moved on. Instead, by attempting to cover it up and by entertaining the belief that people wouldn’t make a huge issue out of it if they did discover what Couillard did, he looks like someone who tried to get away with something. Instead of holding his head up, he is forced to slink around a little.
Couillard has begun to surrender the campaign moral high ground. He was roundly attacked in last Thursday’s debate, being pounded especially hard on his morality and integrity in the light of the tax haven issue which had just surfaced on that very day I believe it was. One more gaffe or mistake like this might result in anglophones and allophones crying in our beers after the election. Watch it. Not watch me. Watch it.
So the existence of these monies has led us to question the Liberal leader’s integrity, his sense of morality, his foresight, his practical intelligence and his judgement.
There are two areas of consequence here – political and human.
Politically, there’s no doubt that Couillard has harmed his campaign and the momentum it appeared to have developed, if the most recent polls are to be believed, but things may be about to change.
Fortunately, though, there is an ace in the hole that Couillard can play and that’s the one concerning M. Blanchet, the millionaire husband of Marois. These two partners have a lot of their assets in a family trust which apparently is another way to dodge taxes so if Marois gets down and dirty on this issue, Couillard can come right back and attack her because she is certainly opening herself up to accusations of hypocrisy for attacking the Liberal leader for actions similar in result to those in which she and her husband have been engaged.
Then there’s the human effect of what Couillard attempted to get away with.
He had the election within his grasp and hopefully has not let it slip away. In another situation, this would have cost him a lot of support but not in present-day Quebec, not with the PQ’s commitment to a referendum and sovereignty hanging over our heads, not with the alternative to the Liberals being a party with no guiding principles and which has had a divisive effect on the cultural integrity of Quebec – not with all this baggage hanging around.
As we have always done in similar situations, we hold our noses and vote against the PQ and all that it stands for rather than for Couillard who had been starting to win me over. And that’s quite disappointing and a little sad.