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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A commission of inquiry dismissed allegations against Quebec's Liberal government on Wednesday that it had tried to improperly influence the appointment of judges in the Canadian province.
The allegations of influence peddling, made by a former justice minister, have badly clouded the reputation of the government of Premier Jean Charest and damaged its standings in opinion polls.
Recent surveys show the opposition Parti Quebecois -- which wants the largely French-speaking province of 7.5 million to separate from Canada -- would likely win a provincial election if one were held now.
The report by the commission -- appointed by Premier Charest and headed by former Supreme Court of Canada judge -- rejected allegations by former Justice Minister Marc Bellemare that Liberal fundraisers pressured him to select party supporters for the court in 2003 and 2004.
But the report also said the province should overhaul its process of appointing judges to prevent future problems.
"I conclude that, on the balance of probabilities, Mr Bellemare was not forced to act against his will (in the appointments)," wrote commission head Michel Bastarache, a retired Supreme Court justice.
"The facts supported by the objective evidence demonstrate that Marc Bellemare acted voluntarily and independently (in making appointments)."
Charest, whose government holds only a narrow majority in the provincial legislature, has denied the allegations of influence peddling.
Critics say the appointment of the commission was an attempt by Charest to avoid a broader investigation into allegations of government corruption.
It is unclear if the Bellemare report will help the sagging political fortunes of Charest or his pro-federalist Liberals.
The government narrowly survived a no-confidence motion in late November and then lost a safe seat in a provincial by-election to the Parti Quebecois.
Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Janet Guttsman