MONTREAL - The vast majority of federal political donations from suspects accused of corruption in Quebec went to the Liberal Party of Canada in the era that predated fundraising reforms, construction scandals, and an extended exile in opposition.
The Liberals were a money-raking machine at the height of their power a decade ago — and some of their benefactors from back then are in legal trouble now.
An analysis by The Canadian Press has found that the Liberals received 85 per cent, or $1.86 million, of the nearly $2.18 million in registered contributions between 1993 and 2011 from the dozens of people and companies charged as a result of recent investigations by Quebec's anti-corruption police squad.
Elections Canada records from that same period, during which the Liberals were mostly in power, show that smaller amounts went to other parties.
The modern Conservative party got $39,945 and its predecessors, the PCs and Reform/Canadian Alliance, received $211,274 and $15,120 respectively. The Bloc Quebecois got $54,579.
Neither the New Democratic Party, nor the Greens, received donations from the people and companies facing present-day charges.
Those contributions began to dry up after 2003 — when new laws limiting political donations were gradually brought in, first by the Chretien Liberals and then the Harper Tories.
They virtually vanished by around 2009, while the current political scandals began to rock Quebec. Some witnesses at the Charbonneau inquiry have described that moment as a turning point, testifying that increased media and police pressure led the industry to change its ways.
While the size of the overall pie shrank the last few years, there was a clear shift in the ratio claimed by each party in accordance with a timeless trend: money followed power.
The Liberals, who out-raised their rival parties, combined, by a ratio of 47-to-one among those donors in 2003, saw that towering advantage whittled down in conjunction with their subsequent political fortunes.
As the Conservatives took office, they caught up. Although the amounts involved were comparably tiny by then, the Conservatives eclipsed the Liberals among those donors one year they were in office and ran neck-and-neck in another.
The Canadian Press researched the donation history of all 102 individuals charged by Quebec's anti-corruption police squad.
The results showed that nearly half — 45 of them — made registered contributions to federal parties from 1993 to 2011. Elections Canada's public online database only goes as far back as 1993.
Records also revealed that of the 13 companies charged by the police squad, three-quarters of them — or 10 firms — made federal political contributions between 1993 and 2006. Corporate donations in Canadian politics were restricted in 2003, then banned outright in 2006.
The analysis included federal contributions made by engineering and construction firms where some of the 102 individuals held influential positions, such as owner or senior executive.
The NDP has reacted to the findings.
It is calling on Elections Canada to investigate whether any of those donors inflated the cost of public projects, or received contracts in exchange for contributions.
"We find it extremely sketchy that once again the Liberals and Conservatives are implicated with people who had extremely questionable practices in the past," Montreal New Democrat MP Alexandre Boulerice said Thursday.
"We want to know if they got favoured treatment from either the Liberals or the Conservatives in exchange for this money. For us, it's more confirmation that the Liberals and the Conservatives are one and the same, and it's time to do politics differently."
The Conservatives were asked about the contributions they received from the suspects and companies implicated in Quebec's corruption scandals.
In an email, the party pointed to its first major act in office: the 2006 Federal Accountability Act, which banned union and corporate money.
"We only accept individual donations within the legal limit," Conservative party spokesman Fred DeLorey wrote in a brief email.
"We banned corporate donations and imposed a strict limit on personal donations."
Liberal spokeswoman Andree-Lyne Halle also responded in an email exchange.
"I can tell you that all donations to the Liberal Party of Canada were made in accordance to the law," she wrote Thursday.
"We don't have any other particular comments."
A veteran Bloc MP said in an interview that his party received very few corporate donations, and he believes individual contributions were based on conviction.
The Quebec-only party could have never formed government to offer anyone favours anyway, MP Andre Bellevance added.
As for the suspects who gave to the Bloc in the past, Bellevance said, no one could have predicted the future.
"If the donation is effectively legal, according to Elections Canada, (then) we accept the donation — and we can't presume that the person, 10 years later, could find themselves in a problematic situation," said Bellevance, an MP since 2004.
Little else is known about ties between federal parties and figures in Quebec's construction scandals.
In fact, it's unclear to what extent they will ever be explored.
The ongoing public inquiry in Quebec has heard stunning testimony about illegal political financing, corruption of officials, and Mafia and biker ties in the province's construction sector.
Industry players have described how they used political contributions to gain influence at the provincial level, in the hope of lobbying politicians to provide public funds for projects that had frequently been rigged at the municipal level.
But the inquiry does not have a mandate to probe whether such activities have occurred in the federal sphere.
Bellevance said it would be naive to think that no one has ever tried similar schemes in Ottawa — particularly with billions of dollars in federal contracts up for grabs year after year.
"If there are dishonest people in one place, I don't know why they wouldn't be elsewhere," he said.