A long-awaited witness, former Parti Québécois transport minister Guy Chevrette, took the witness box at the province's corruption commission today to address questions about the awarding of provincial contracts on his watch.
Chevrette is defending his reputation during his time in power as a PQ Transport Minister from 1998 to 2002.
The long-serving minister, who was in public office for "25 years, two months, and 15 days," he specified, said he never exercised inappropriate influence in the awarding of contracts. He was too busy to be involved in the details of individual projects, he told the commission.
He was also questioned about his role in a number of political cocktail fundraisers held to build money for the party. Chevrette maintained that the events didn't amount to a $1,000 a ticket meeting with the minister and he would tell people to call his office and make an appointment if they wanted to talk about official business.
Often, he said, he'd show up, shake some hands and be on his way quickly.
He said pressure to approve certain contracts often came from many sources. For example, other ministers wanted to see projects in their region completed, while local municipalities added more pressure.
However, Chevrette denied any suggestion that political favours or compensation played into the approval or planning of projects.
Contract fixing allegations in transport ministry
Chevrette's name has surfaced several times in testimony at the commission, particularly in connection with multi-million dollar roadwork contracts that were awarded while he served as minister.
No witness has told the commission they gave any bribes directly to Chevrette, however.
Last year, a political fixer who worked for the engineering firm Roche testified before the commission that someone in the former transport minister's entourage demanded $100,000 to ensure his firm got access to the minister's office.
Gilles Cloutier told the commission in May 2013 that his firm got a $30 million contract because he helped stack the selection committee that was reviewing the bids.
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.
Chevrette denied the allegations and issued a statement calling Cloutier's claims, "false and defamatory." He said he was eager to testify before the commission himself to "restore the truth and thwart this attack on my reputation."
He demanded the opportunity to cross-examine Cloutier before the commission. That request was denied and later shot down again after Chevrette appealed to the Quebec Superior Court.
Chevrette was first elected in 1976 and left politics in 2002.
The commission, which has a broad mandate that includes municipal and provincial contracts, has recently been focused on the awarding of large roadwork contracts by the MTQ.
Chevrette's testimony continues tomorrow.