Quebec election: Conservative leader on defensive over unpaid taxes

·4 min read

MONTREAL — Conservative Party of Quebec Leader Éric Duhaime said Tuesday that years of unpaid taxes on a property in Quebec City were the result of a friend in financial difficulty.

On Day 17 of Quebec's election campaign, Duhaime told reporters in Montreal he accepts responsibility and recently paid the outstanding bills.

The Conservative leader said that under an agreement with his friend, no rent was charged but the friend was supposed to maintain the home and pay municipal and school taxes as well as utilities. But the father of four couldn't keep up, Duhaime said.

"I take the entire responsibility, even if it was someone else who was supposed to pay," the Tory leader said.

Last week, the Journal de Québec reported that Duhaime owed $14,000 in municipal taxes. And according to La Presse, there were also unpaid school taxes of $2,400 between October 2018 and January 2021 for which a bailiff was dispatched to recoup the unpaid money.

Duhaime said he hadn't wanted to talk about his friend until the latter agreed to speak anonymously to the Journal de Québec. He said he didn't want to embarrass his friend and didn't consider the friend's personal issues to be of public interest.

It's not the first time Duhaime has had issues with bills. In 2012, while working as a radio host, he told listeners that Hydro-Québec had cut his electricity because he hadn't paid his bill in 18 months. At the time, he pinned the blame on the publicly owned utility, decrying its monopoly status.

Duhaime was asked Tuesday how someone aspiring to be premier can be trusted to manage the public purse if they can't pay their own bills. "There's a lot of people who have difficulties to (make ends meet) at the end of the month. I'm not the first, not the last and I want to represent those people at the national assembly," he said.

"Nobody can understand better than me, I guess, on that front, but seriously, I took full responsibility for what happened. Everything has been paid for, and from now on, I will move on."

The other party leaders questioned Duhaime's explanation.

Québec solidaire spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, speaking in Rouyn-Noranda, Que., said Duhaime owed Quebecers more transparency.

"I also have friends, and I like to help them, but I find this to be a little bit much," Nadeau-Dubois said after announcing a promise to offer more cultural outings for elementary and secondary students.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said all citizens are supposed to pay their taxes. "If you aspire to lead Quebec, the least you can do is lead by example and that's not what he's doing," she said in Boucherville, Que.

Party leaders on Tuesday released details of their personal wealth, with Anglade on top with assets of $12 million, followed by Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault with assets worth $9.5 million. Duhaime came in third at $2.7 million, followed by Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon at $410,450. Québec solidaire's Nadeau-Dubois reported a net worth of $104,285.

The PQ released its costed platform on Tuesday, with $29.9 billion in promises over five years, including $8 billion for home care and $10 billion for the environment. The party would seek to add $12.3 billion in new revenues during that period, with a tax on the "superprofits" of some companies that were made during the COVID-19 pandemic and that were a result of inflation.

St-Pierre Plamondon told The Canadian Press in an interview that he wanted to stay on as party leader no matter the result of the Oct. 3 election. Poll-aggregating website forecasts the PQ winning one seat — the Matane-Matapédia riding held by Pascal Bérubé.

Legault campaigned in Verdun, in southwestern Montreal, where a three-way battle is developing for a seat that has been a Liberal stronghold since its creation in 1965 but where the Liberal support has been declining since 2014. The outgoing premier later met with Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, and the two discussed several issues, including public security, affordable housing and the environment.

Four of the five major parties will pause their campaigns on Wednesday to prepare for Thursday's first French-language debate. Duhaime, meanwhile, is planning to present his party's costed platform on Wednesday in Laval, Que.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2022.

— With files from Jacob Serebrin, Patrice Bergeron, Jocelyne Richer, Stéphane Rolland, Frédéric Lacroix-Couture and Caroline Plante.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press