Former PQ Transport Minister Guy Chevrette has unequivocally denied allegations from a veteran political fixer that he interfered in the awarding of a municipal roadwork contract.
Gilles Cloutier, an executive at the engineering firm Roche at the time of the incident in 2001, said someone in the transport minister's entourage demanded a $100,000 bribe to ensure the firm got access to the minister's office.
Cloutier said Roche got the $30 million contract because he helped to stack the selection committee that was evaluating the bids for the project with people who were loyal to him.
'The contacts are the key that...opens all the doors,'— Gilles Cloutier
Cloutier said he never discussed money directly with Guy Chevrette, who was transport minister in the Parti Québécois government at that time.
However, after the contract was signed, Chevrette named a paving firm that he wanted to work on the project, Cloutier said.
"The statements by the former vice-president of Roche, as they concern me, are totally false and defamatory," Chevrette said in a written statement on Wednesday evening. He said he wants to testify at the Charbonneau inquiry as soon as possible, "in order to restore the truth and thwart this attack on my reputation."
Chevrette left politics in 2002.
Cloutier said Roche was in financial difficulty at the time the contract was signed, so he handed over $25,000 of his own money to his contact in the minister's office.
"I said the rest of the money was coming," he said.
He told the commission that he doesn't know if Roche ever paid the remaining $75,000.
Contracts across Quebec
Throughout his 10 years with Roche, Cloutier was able to secure contracts in around 160 Quebec municipalities, he told the commission Wednesday.
He said he was hired by the engineering firm for his political contacts and his ability to bring in new business.
Cloutier worked for Roche and then later Dessau as director of business development. That meant making clients happy with gifts and perks, as well as using his extensive network to create business opportunities by winning lucrative municipal contracts, he said.
"The contacts are the key that can advance everything," he said. "They're the big [key] that opens all the doors."
Cloutier was hired by Dessau in 2005 and accepted a salary of $180,000 a year, he told the commission.
Dessau was hoping to break into some of the municipalities where Roche had made gains. The results were mixed.
Cloutier said he was able to secure contracts in the cities of Terrebonne, St-Jérôme and St-Thérèse. He said Rosaire Sauriol — a former vice-president at Dessau who, in earlier testimony, told the commission about his role in a collusion scheme in Montreal — finally terminated his contract in 2007, when he found out Cloutier was under investigation by the federal Competition Bureau.
Now in his 70s, Cloutier worked for decades in the provincial and municipal political spheres, as well as for the No side in the 1995 referendum on Quebec independence, before he was hired by Roche.
Cloutier said Roche was particularly impressed with the work he did to help the mayoral campaign of Pierre Bourque in Montreal in 1994.
He said Roche was interested in his contacts at Montreal City Hall but also in a number of other municipalities where he had worked on election campaigns on the city's south and north shores.
His primary role was to open doors for the firm to get more business from the municipalities.
"I was a specialist in finding information to get a contract," he said.
In about 50 per cent of the cases, Roche followed the rules. The other half was obtained using illegal means, he said.
Olympic stadium party
Cloutier painted a picture for the commission of the relationship between the private sector and the public sector by describing an annual party he organized on behalf of Roche for hundreds of political figures in the province.
Dozens of mayors and city councillors as well as a handful of provincial and federal politicians attended the events, which were held in a private box at Olympic stadium during the opening game of the Montreal Expos.
Cloutier said the idea was to connect people in a way that was advantageous for the firm. He introduced big-name politicians, including Gérald Tremblay, Frank Zampino and Tony Tomassi, to sports celebrities such as Jean Béliveau, Cloutier explained.
A video shown before the commission showed the event's MC in 2004 running through an extensive who's who of politicians in attendance. It also showed other political figures posing with the sports stars and colleagues in front of a Roche banner.
Cloutier said the final event in 2004 cost $150,000 and the invitation-only guest list included 200 mayors and elected officials. The guests paid nothing to attend the event.
He said the fact that the event was being thrown by Roche wasn't a secret. However, the commission did not hear any evidence describing illegal activities at the parties or testimony indicating that all of the attendees were aware of Cloutier's goals.
Liberal MNA denies being under Cloutier's influence
Cloutier shared numerous other examples of how he exercised his role during the decades he acted as a political fixer.
This morning, he described for the commission an incident in which the mayor of St-Stanislas, a small town located about 500 kilometers north of Montreal, needed an $11.5-million provincial grant to get a significant water-treatment project going.
Cloutier said he successfully lobbied a prominent Quebec cabinet minister, current Liberal parliamentary leader Jean-Marc Fournier, for it.
Outside the national assembly today, Fournier said his approval of the project had nothing to do with Cloutier's lobbying a decade ago.
"Is it because Mr Cloutier asked it? No. Not at all. Not for this file not for any others," Fournier said.
Fournier added that politicians cannot be held responsible for the actions of every person with whom they meet.
"Now we are in a [place]
where if a politican does their job, they are guilty by association and guilty by aniticpation," he said.
"How could I know at the time that Mr. Cloutier would be in front of the Charbonneau commission today and learning what we are learning today?"
Detailed testimony continues
Cloutier's detailed and frank testimony, covering years of alleged political misdeeds in Montreal and off the island, set off a domino-effect reaction yesterday.
Cloutier described in detail the process with which he would guarantee election victory for candidates and parties in exchange for contract guarantees for his employers, implicating the campaigns of dozens of mayors and city councillors, and at least one provincial MNA.
He also told the commission that the vast majority of campaign financing, both at the provincial and municipal level, was illegal and generated through so-called straw men who lent their names to the donations so corporations could get around election financing laws.
MNA Jacques Duchesneau, whose internal report on collusion in the ministry of transportation played a major role in the launching of the Charbonneau commission, said that he agreed with Cloutier's assessment.
Cloutier's testimony continues tomorrow.