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Fournier will remain Liberal house leader: Couillard

QUEBEC — Jean-Marc Fournier has cleared a police security check and will remain in cabinet and as Liberal house leader, Premier Philippe Couillard said Tuesday.

“I asked, and it is the only contact my office has with the Sûreté du Québec, if there had been any change in Mr. Fournier’s security clearance,” Couillard said, arriving for a meeting of the Liberal caucus Tuesday morning. “Absolutely not. Mr. Fournier has no change in his security clearance and ability to continue sitting in cabinet.”

Asked whether, in his view, the police clearance means allegations made by disgruntled Montreal police union chief Yves Francoeur were unfounded, Couillard answered yes.

“When they say someone’s security clearance has not changed, that’s what it means,” Couillard said.

Couillard went further, saying he still has the “greatest confidence” in Fournier, whom he says was a victim of a gratuitous attack on his reputation. Quebec society has some thinking to do, he said.

“Of course, allegations of interference and obstruction in the operation of the justice system are serious,” Couillard said. “But allegations which are unfounded, where there is (a factual) mistake here and there and which damage the reputation of someone are also serious in a democratic society governed by the rule of law.”

Couillard’s vote of confidence comes a day after a statement Francoeur made to the SQ about an incident at a 2008 Liberal fundraising cocktail party was leaked to the Journal de Montréal, part of the Quebecor media chain.

In that statement, Francoeur alleges Fournier was one of two politicians who somehow dodged corruption charges related to political interference in connection with the fundraiser. The other politician named was former Liberal finance minister Raymond Bachand.

Both have flatly denied the allegations, with Bachand noting he was not even at the fundraiser. In fact it was Claude Béchard, a Charest-era minister, who died in 2011.

There has been a suggestion that Francoeur’s informants — he claims he has five sources — mixed up the two ministers because their names sound alike.

But the incident clearly rattled Fournier, who on Monday was wondering out loud whether he could continue in his role as house leader or whether his presence would be a distraction.

Tuesday, he sounded relieved and somewhat vindicated, noting that a La Presse article Tuesday said despite five months of investigation, the SQ has found nothing to corroborate Francoeur’s story.

“There’s nothing on me,” Fournier said shortly after Couillard spoke. “If Mr. Francoeur was right, I would have a problem.”

The Fournier situation emerged just as the National Assembly was to resume sitting Tuesday and has been the subject of all the corridor chatter.

With the Parti Québécois opposition calling for Fournier to be suspended pending the results of the investigation and Québec solidaire saying he should resign, an emotional Fournier let it all hang out Monday, saying such reporting made him wonder whether he should stay in politics.

Tuesday, Fournier’s fellow Liberals closed ranks around him, with some firing back at the media.

Montmorency MNA Raymond Bernier, who said Fournier is a fantastic guy, accused the media of “mudslinging.”

Asked if Fournier should step down as house leader, Health Minister Gaétan Barrette was brief: “Absolutely not.”

“Mr. Fournier is an excellent colleague and has all my support,” said International Affairs Minister Christine Saint-Pierre.

A former journalist, she took a swipe at the media.

“I respect freedom of the press,” she said. “I think the facts need to be well checked, well analyzed. For the moment, this is lacking. I think it’s terrible to write articles which are false.”

But Couillard suggested something else is afoot. After Fournier’s comments Monday suggesting someone is trying to destabilize the government just as Quebec enters an election year, Couillard repeated that theory.

“It’s clear we are a successful government,” Couillard said. “Quebec is successful. Quebec is doing better. Everyone says it. It’s clear some people don’t like this.

“There are people who fuel themselves with bad news and depression. We are optimists and have confidence in Quebec.”

He refused to elaborate further or point the finger at any one media outlet or political party.

“Starting an argument with the media is never a winning formula for any politician,” he said.

pauthier@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/philipauthier

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http://montrealgazette.com/news/quebec/security-clearance-means-jean-marc-fournier-will-remain-liberal-house-leader-couillard