Premier denies disgraced Liberal bagman involved in 2013 leadership campaign

Premier Philippe Couillard says a former Liberal fundraiser – who is banned for life from the federal Liberal party – had no involvement in his 2013 leadership campaign.

Couillard was forced to answer questions about his link to Marc-Yvan Côté after a story in the French-language Journal de Montréal alleged Côté played a role in his campaign for the Quebec Liberal Party's top job.

"We had heard that he wanted to play a role. That's why I decided immediately, even before I started the campaign, to meet him and tell him don't do this, I don't want you to play a role," Couillard told reporters.

These days Côté is seen as toxic in political circles. Last year he was arrested by the province's anti-corruption squad and faces multiple charges related to illegal campaign financing.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin banned him from the federal Liberals for life because of his involvement in the federal sponsorship scandal.

E-mails between Liberal organizers and Côté

The Journal de Montréal obtained a series of e-mails between provincial Liberal organizers and Côté.

In one message, the husband of a former Liberal candidate, Yves Goudreau, asks Côté for the names of delegates from the Charlevoix riding association in order to get them to back Couillard in the leadership vote.

A longtime Liberal party organizer also emailed Côté after Couillard won the leadership in 2013. Lise Grondin wrote, "Even if you were in the shadows, kudos to you for always being there ... again and again.... Stay with us. We're going to need it. In friendship. XX."

The premier says Grondin had nothing to do with his leadership campaign.

In another e-mail, dated after Couillard was elected leader, Côté's assistant wrote, "Josée Lévesque from Philippe Couillard's office" needed to speak with him. Lévesque was the organizer on Couillard's leadership campaign responsible for eastern Quebec, and she now works in the office of the party whip.

Couillard said Lévesque told him the subject "had nothing to do with political organization, whether it's at the party level or from the leadership race." He would not say why Lévesque contacted Côté.

Opposition calling for legislative hearings

The opposition parties believe there are sufficient questions about Côté's possible involvement to warrant legislative hearings.

"We need some answers from Philippe Couillard," said Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault.

Couillard said such an exercise would turn into a political circus.

Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée said the latest revelations raise questions about the Liberal Party and its ethics.

"We feel the only remedy to this bad series of ethical lapses is that the Liberals will be put out of their misery in the next election and pushed way back in opposition," Lisée said.