Gérald Tremblay's voice broke as he spoke of Montreal as 'an exceptional city' that deserves devoted, trustworthy bureaucrats and elected officials, ending his testimony before Quebec's corruption inquiry with the hope that its work will lead to a 'new start' for the city.

The former Montreal mayor stood by his accomplishments, saying no mayor would have been able to weed out corruption the way police investigators — with access to electronic surveillance — and the inquiry itself have been able to do.

Faubourg-Contrecoeur: accused opt for trial by judge alone

Tremblay was also questioned about a controversial real estate land deal known as the Faubourg-Contrecoeur affair.

Zampino and eight others, including construction boss Paolo Catania, are facing fraud and breach of trust charges for their alleged roles in that affair.  They appeared in Quebec Superior Court this morning, opting to be tried by judge alone when their trial eventually gets underway.

That decision removes the risk of testimony at the Charbonneau inquiry influencing a future jury. 

Therefore, the commission has agreed to release some documents related to the real estate deal and to lift a publication ban on the testimony of several witnesses, including Tremblay's.

"I was never willfully blind," Tremblay insisted. "As soon as I got the slightest credible evidence, I acted right away. I spoke to my chief of police."

"I am neither a police officer nor an investigator. I  trusted his judgment."

Tremblay said he was as shocked as anyone by the revelations from entrepreneurs and engineers at the commission about the elaborate system of collusion put in place to get around the rules governing the awarding of contracts.

Abandoned by the premier

Asked about his decision to step down as mayor last November, Tremblay said he had no choice after a former organizer for Union Montréal, Martin Dumont, testified Tremblay had been aware of illegal political party spending in a pair of St-Laurent byelections.

Tremblay said Dumont's story was fabricated, that there never were two sets of books and that he never attended any byelection meeting where Dumont was present, but it didn't matter — the media had a heydey with it, and the damage was done.

He said it was clear he'd lost the support of the Quebec government.

The former mayor said without that, he had to ask himself whether he had the moral authority to negotiate a new financial deal for the city with the government holding the purse-strings.

"If I had had the least bit of support from the Quebec government, before judging, before questioning my authority," Tremblay asked, trailing off with a theory about why Dumont had it in for him — because he didn't support Dumont's bid to run for the borough mayoralty in Rivière-des-Prairies.

Asked about a phone call he received from Premier Pauline Marois the Saturday after Dumont's testimony, Tremblay said it lasted five minutes, at best.

"Her first question, 'Have you finished reflecting,'" he said. "After that, I sat down at the end of table, and I wrote down my departure from political life."

Tremblay didn't link gifts to bid-rigging

Tremblay said he knew city officials and other politicians were accepting bottles of wine and high-priced hockey tickets, but he still appeared unwilling today to acknowledge that graft was linked to the bid-rigging of public works contracts.

Tremblay said he personally didn't go to hockey games, although he did once accept a ticket to a Céline Dion concert from then-head of Investissements Québec, Raymond Bachand, and he did go to an Expos game with an insistent contractor who refused to take 'no' for an answer.

However, Tremblay said when bottles of wine came to his office, they were passed on to charity, and he doesn't have the patience for golf, so no one ever invited him to play a round.

Bid-rigging 'obvious,' says Tremblay grimly, at last

That self-imposed rigour didn't extend to what others in his administration were doing.  Tremblay said politicians were not prohibited from accepting invitations to hockey games or concerts. As for civil servants, their actions were covered by the city's ethics code.

Tremblay said he knew the gift-giving was going on, but not to what extent.

Asked bluntly and repeatedly about the evidence that construction contractors were "taking turns" at being awarded contracts, Tremblay seemed unwilling to admit that had even happened.

"You still think that it's impossible to influence a contract?" asked an incredulous Sonia LeBel, a commission prosecutor. "At the time — and still today?"

"It's possible," Tremblay began. "It's possible influential businesspeople tried to influence Frank Zampino (Tremblay's former right-hand man). But it didn't happen."

"You're not serious," commission chairwoman France Charbonneau interrupted. "With all the testimony you've heard before the commission, you believe everything everyone has said is a lie?"

Several minutes later, LeBel tried again.

"In spite of the rules, do you think there could be a parallel universe in which one cheats, one conspires, one influences and hijacks the process with the intent of playing favourites?" LeBel asked.

"When I hear all the revelations before the commission," a grim-faced Tremblay said, at last. "It's obvious."

Internal reports bypassed Tremblay until 2009

Tremblay said the first time he ever heard talk of collusion among construction companies at Montreal City Hall was in 2009 — three years after concern about inflated prices was raised by the city's internal auditor, Denis Savard.

LeBel grilled the former mayor about why he didn't act sooner on growing evidence that the cost of public works contracts was out of control — particularly the multi-billion dollar contract to install industrial water meters.

She asked about several reports, including Savard's confidential 2006 letter to former city manager Claude Léger which indicated that four construction companies — Louisbourg, Infrabec, Pavages CSF and Sintra — were getting 56 per cent of all public works contracts. 

Savard raised the possibility of collusion and warned that Montreal did not have the means in place to detect cartels, conflicts of interest and fraud.

"I never saw that letter," Tremblay said emphatically. "Never."

Tremblay said neither Léger nor the man who chaired the executive committee at that time, Frank Zampino, brought it to his attention.

Tremblay also contradicted the testimony of former city director Serge Pourreaux, who told the commission his 2004 report on ballooning contract costs and his recommendations on how to fix the problem was nixed by senior members of the city's executive committee, including the mayor.

Tremblay said he never saw that report until it was brought to his attention in 2012.

"Were you not in an ivory tower?" asked the commission chairwoman France Charbonneau. "You must have heard echoes, right and left?"

"I heard no echoes," Tremblay replied, explaining how he came to be informed about several reports only last year, when he spoke to the newly appointed director of water services for the city.

"Am I going to get other surprises?" Tremblay says he asked Guy Hébert. "Do other reports exist?"

That's when he said he learned of Pourreaux's 2004 report and a follow-up 2005 report.

He said he was very upset the reports had never been brought to his attention. 

He said in 2005 a strategic committee to look at possible cost-saving measures had been set up by the executive committee to respond to Pourreaux' report. 

He said he was not part of that committee, which consisted of Frank Zampino, former Verdun borough mayor Georges Bossé and St-Laurent borough mayor Alan DeSousa.

Charbonneau demanded to know why Tremblay had never followed up on that committee's work, to see if there were cost-saving measures that could be adopted.

"The head of the executive committee… had the mandate to optimize city services, along with the city manager," Tremblay said. "I took for granted that those two people were assuming their responsibilities."

Duchesneau never warned him, Tremblay says

Charbonneau also questioned Tremblay about CAQ MNA Jacques Duchesneau's contention, made in testimony to the inquiry last June, that he had warned Tremblay personally about key members of his entourage — a charge Tremblay has denied many times in the past.

"Thank you for asking me that question," Tremblay replied. "Jacques Duchesneau came to my office on July 2, 2009. He made certain suggestions about how to improve the granting of contracts."

"He has said he gave me the names of four people in my entourage that I shouldn't trust. My chief of staff, Stéphane Forget, was present. He doesn't remember that — these four names. I have asked Jacques Duchesneau at least five times, why not give me these names."

"If you have names, I authorize you to give them out… He never, never, never mentioned four people in my entourage whom I couldn't trust.  He never mentioned that."