A former engineer for the city of Montreal wrapped up his testimony to Quebec's corruption inquiry with an apology, despite his earlier assertion that saying sorry to an unforgiving public would do nothing to change the fact he'd accepted $500,000 in kickbacks and thousands more in lavish gifts over the years that he helped construction bosses inflate the price of city contracts.
Luc Leclerc returned to the stand to make a brief statement Monday afternoon, telling the Charbonneau commission into corruption in the construction industry that he was sorry — most especially for betraying the trust of Montreal taxpayers, his fellow engineers and former colleagues at the city of Montreal.
Earlier in his testimony, Leclerc admitted to taking 25 per cent from the contingency costs built into the already-inflated rates that construction companies had charged on public works. He testified he had spent about $500,000 in ill-gotten cash over the years but couldn't say how much he had received in total.
Leclerc blamed cutbacks at Montreal city hall for the fact that construction engineers, with his help, had gotten away with inflating prices so dramatically. Eventually there were only two people conducting detailed review of those contracts, he said.
He said with more engineers and with increased supervision, it would have been harder for corruption to take hold.
Truckloads of gifts arrived at Christmas
Leclerc said at the start of his career in Montreal, it would have been unheard of to accept gifts from construction bosses.
But over the years, things loosened up.
He said at Christmas, trucks would pull into the parking lot of the city's public works department on Viger Street and deliver loads of gifts to everyone.
Asked if he ever thought of turning them down, Leclerc said it did cross his mind, but he took them as everyone else did, and he never thought about the consequences.
The commissioner herself asked Leclerc to name which of his co-workers accepted gifts.
"All of my colleagues accepted gifts," Leclerc said. "There were no exceptions."
Freebies and fun beat retirement
Leclerc was asked why he didn't retire when he was eligible to in 2002, and he said he stayed on for the "social life."
"I liked to play golf. I liked getting free hockey tickets. I liked going out for lunch with the entrepreneurs — to talk about work, for sure, but it was agreeable work just the same. I'd never deny that," Leclerc said.
'What's done is done, and I can't undo it,' —Retired Montreal engineer Luc Leclerc
He said the fun ended in 2009, when the city created a Code of Ethics and the Quebec government created Operation Hammer, a specialized squad to investigate corruption and collusion in the construction industry.
Leclerc said that's when he decided it was time to retire.
Public unforgiving, Leclerc says
Asked why he was not more remorseful about all he has done, Leclerc said earlier Monday that it wouldn't make any difference.
He said if he thought he could change the past by appearing before the inquiry with a trembling voice and tears in his eyes, he would.
"Life is not the movies," Leclerc said. "I know it would absolutely change nothing. What's done is done, and I can't undo it."
France Charbonneau then interjected with a trace of incredulity in her voice, "You say you could apologize to the public, but you won't because it won't change anything?"
"I don't think the public forgives," he replied.
After a break in the hearings, Leclerc returned to the stand to say he did in fact want to apologize.
He said he would be happy to offer his expertise to the commission and would make himself available after his testimony was finished.