The man in charge of finances for Union Montréal, Marc Deschamps, told Quebec's Charbonneau inquiry Monday that a document ostensibly showing two separate sets of finances for the 2004 St. Laurent borough byelections in fact showed a party official's "dream budget" and the actual spending — which fell within the legal limit.
Marc Deschamps, the official agent and treasurer for former mayor Gérald Tremblay's beleaguered municipal party, gave that straightforward explanation for the document which sparked a firestorm when former Union Montréal party official Martin Dumont first made reference to it last fall.
Dumont testified last October that Tremblay walked out of a meeting when presented with two separate sets of finances — an allegation which Tremblay vigorously denied. However, within days of Dumont's testimony, the former mayor resigned from the city's top job.
Today, Deschamps told Charbonneau commission prosecutor Paul Crépeau that Dumont may have simply misunderstood what he was looking at.
The document, an estimated budget for two 2004 byelections in St. Laurent, shows two columns of numbers, one for $96,448 and a second for $51,035.
Deschamps said the first total — almost double the amount authorized by Quebec's chief electoral officer — was simply a "wish list" from Union Montréal's executive director, Christian Ouellet.
"It's the way Christian worked," Deschamps told the commission. "He'd add figures to a piece of paper to try get 'the max,' and then Marc Deschamps cuts, takes out, to get to the authorized budget."
"The line for software," Deschamps said, by way of example. "It's completely hysterical: a sum of $14,500. It makes no sense to spend that kind of money on software for a byelection campaign."
He said it was one of several items in the proposed budget that he cut in order to make sure the spending fell within legal limits.
Party fundraiser fired 'for show'
Deschamps spent much of the day testifying about Bernard Trépanier, the party's chief fundraiser, who he described as someone with whom he had a "professional friendship."
Deschamps told the inquiry Trépanier was fired at Gérald Tremblay's request in 2006, but Deschamps said "he was just fired for show."
Crépeau suggested the man known as "Mr. Three Per Cent" may have lost his job for trying to extort $1 million from a firm that wanted the go-ahead for a real estate project in Montreal.
However, Deschamps said it was the first time he had ever heard such an allegation, and Crépeau presented no evidence to support it.
Deschamps told the commission former mayor Tremblay called him in February 2006 to ask him to figure out how much it would cost to fire Trépanier, who was earning $82,000 annually at the time.
Deschamps said they made a unilateral decision to give Trépanier approximately four months' salary and a $25,000 severance package.
Despite being pressed multiple times by Crépeau, Commissioner Renaud Lachance and Commission Chair France Charbonneau, Deschamps insisted he did not know why Trépanier was fired.
One of the reasons given was that Trépanier was too close to Zampino, but Deschamps said the other reason was kept secret. He told the inquiry Tremblay only alluded to it in October 2012.
Shoeboxes filled with cash
The prosecutor then focused on the events that followed Trépanier's dismissal.
At first Deschamps smiled when Crépeau asked if he had heard that when Trépanier was fired, the former fundraiser walked out of Union Montréal’s offices carrying shoeboxes.
But Deschamps’ smirk quickly faded when Crépeau suggested the boxes had been filled with $100 bills.
Deschamps said he wasn’t there at the time, but he was not aware of anything of that nature.
Deschamps confirmed that after his 2006 dismissal,Trépanier continued to raise funds for Union Montréal, in Crépeau's words, "as if he had never left."
The inquiry heard that in 2007, 2008 and 2009, Trépanier continued to solicit political donations on behalf of the party on a volunteer basis.
Pages from Deschamps’ agenda in the year following Trépanier’s firing show the two men held numerous meetings.
Deschamps told the commission it didn’t worry him that Trépanier continued working to raise money for the party. He said he had no reason to doubt that Trépanier’s activities were legal.
But commissioner Renaud Lachance pressed further, suggesting that Deschamps should have more carefully vetted the donations collected by Trépanier.
Deschamps replied that vetting every donation would have been a full-time job.
"You are setting the bar too high for what is physically possible," he said.
Cross-examined later on Monday by Union Montréal's own lawyer, Michel Dorval, Deschamps said it would have been impossible for the party to spend amounts hugely in excess of what it was allowed to under Quebec's electoral law, because there were so many checks and balances.
"It would have been like trying to stuff $1,000 in quarters into a piggybank," Deschamps said. "It's physically impossible — and unthinkable."
"Besides, we have our political adversaries," he added. "They watch us, just as we watch them. If you paper the city with 50,000 posters… someone's going to count them and denounce you."
"So if I understand you correctly, you're saying, the money Mr. Trépanier collected — the 3 per cent — it didn't go into the coffers of Union Montréal, but stayed in his pockets," said France Charbonneau.
"Yes," said Deschamps, in a whisper.
The testimony that followed is subject to a publication ban, because it concerned the Faubourg-Contrecoeur real estate scandal, which is now before the courts.
Deschamps will resume his testimony on Tuesday.