The leader of the Conservative Party of Quebec says the thousands of dollars in unpaid tax bills that have marred his election campaign in recent days were the result of him helping a friend in financial difficulty.
Éric Duhaime said he allowed a father of four to stay in one of his properties and agreed to not charge him rent. Instead, that friend was supposed to pay property and school taxes, Duhaime said.
"[He] went through a tough time like many people do once in a while especially after a tough divorce. So I told him stay at my home and just pay the [tax] bills," Duhaime said during an interview with CBC Montreal's Debra Arbec.
"I've been very honest about it and I'm not trying to deny my responsibility even if my friend was supposed to pay. Ultimately, I was responsible for it."
In the last week, Duhaime has been peppered with questions over approximately $16,000 in unpaid local taxes in Quebec City.
Last week, the Journal de Montréal reported he owed about $14,000 in property taxes.
According to documents obtained by Radio-Canada, Duhaime also failed to pay about $2,400 in school taxes between October 2018 and January 2021 and a school service centre in the Quebec City area hired a bailiff to collect the money.
The Quebec Conservative leader says those bills have been paid in full.
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, criticizing its status as a monopoly.
WATCH | Éric Duhaime explains his tax problems and his party's policies:
When asked how the unpaid bills affect his credibility as an aspiring premier, Duhaime decried the amount of media coverage he has received in the week. He also said his mistake shows that he's a "normal person."
"Those things happen to everybody and I want to be the voice of those people," he said. "I'm not the only one who doesn't pay all his bills all the time. I'm not perfect. I do some mistakes and this was one of them and I'm responsible for it."
Other party leaders questioned Duhaime's explanation.
Québec Solidaire spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said Duhaime owes 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.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said all citizens are supposed to pay their taxes and she questioned Duhaime's leadership abilities. "If you aspire to lead Quebec, the least you can do is lead by example and that's not what he's doing,'' Anglade said in Boucherville, Que., on Montreal's South Shore.