December 4, 2013 Sections
The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
MONTREAL - He was a colourful former NHL pugilist who offered the federal Green party its best opportunity to double its ranks in the House of Commons.
Instead, Georges Laraque will be forced to the sidelines while fighting fraud charges against him while the party decides what to do in a future byelection.
The former NHL enforcer met with media on Friday to reiterate his decision to step aside on a temporary basis as deputy party leader and candidate in Bourassa, a north-end Montreal riding.
For Green party Leader Elizabeth May, Laraque's departure means the loss of the party's strongest hope for a second Commons seat.
"This is the best chance to elect a Green party member of Parliament since my election in Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2011," May told the Montreal news conference alongside Laraque.
May said accepting Laraque's resignation was the most difficult decision she's had to make in seven years as leader, but she told reporters it was the right one.
"I have complete confidence in Georges' innocence," said May. "I find these charges unfortunate and I hope the judicial authorities will move quickly so that he can clear his name."
Laraque first announced Thursday he was stepping down as deputy leader and was withdrawing his candidacy for the party in the byelection.
Earlier this year, media reported that police near Montreal raided Laracque's home in search of documents related to the Super-Glide synthetic ice venture.
Laraque confirmed earlier this week the criminal charges are related to two transactions worth a total of $120,000. He said the accusations stem from a dispute with engineer Marc Filion, who co-founded the company with him in 2009.
Laraque, who is a vegan and an animal-rights activist, has a court appearance scheduled for Nov. 19. It appears unlikely that his legal woes will be over anytime soon.
While it was widely reported that police had executed a search warrant at his home earlier this year, Laraque said he thought the issue was a civil matter and that he had no idea criminal charges could be coming.
"I'll be obviously trying to clear my name as quickly as possible," Laraque said. "Also at the same time, I'll be supporting the local riding here in any decision they're making."
Laraque said he had hoped to muddle through, but decided ultimately to step aside.
"We probably could have brushed this off, but it wouldn't be right and it's not how we want to win," Laraque said.
Before his career as an activist and politician, the 36-year-old Laraque played for four NHL teams between 1997 and 2010 and was best-known for his fighting skills.
Laraque would have been up against a former Liberal MNA running for Justin Trudeau's Liberals as well as a singer for Bran Van 3000 representing the NDP.
May said the numbers looked good for Laraque and that he had widespread support wih great canvassing.
"It's heartbreaking, (because) for the party to have a second member before the next election is pretty important," she added.
The goal is to elect a dozen Green MPs in the next federal election, but having opportunities like the Bourassa byelection might not come again before 2015.
"I think Georges can still win even fighting criminal charges, but would it be the right thing to do for a party that has set a certain standard?" May said.
"Getting a campaign here with Georges as our candidate is still our goal, but we have to do that when his name is completely cleared, which I know will happen."