Tory lobbyist helped win Parliament reno deal: Sauvé

A construction contractor from Montreal claims his company won a bid to renovate Parliament Hill's West Block after paying a Quebec lobbyist with ties to the Conservative Party.

A construction contractor from Montreal claims his company won a bid to renovate Parliament Hill's West Block after paying a Quebec lobbyist with ties to the Conservative Party.

Paul Sauvé told a House of Commons committee on Tuesday that he paid businessman Gilles Varin $140,000 in 2008 to get the contract. Varin, who appeared before the committee a few weeks ago, claims he only got $118,000 for his efforts and did nothing but hand out pamphlets.

Sauvé later threw a fundraiser for a Conservative riding association in Montreal.

"I would like to think it's because of the qualifications, and because of the work of my grandfather and my father and my own, but I tend to believe that it is a combination of that but more importantly because of the fact that we hired a lobbyist," Sauvé told the committee.

"So, yes, because we paid we received," he said.

NDP MP Pat Martin asked Sauvé: "Is it because Varin told you he had connection with the Conservatives that you chose that particular lobbyist?"

Sauvé said Varin was "suggested to us strongly as a man who had strong connections with the Conservative government" and was the "go-to guy."

The committee also heard about the fundraiser hosted by Sauvé at which former public works minister Christian Paradis was a guest of honour.

Sauvé said he got a phone call after the event from the minister's aide, saying Paradis could not find his cashmere coat and wanted more than $5,000 to replace it. Sauvé said he was insulted and quickly ended the call. Paradis, now natural resources minister, was public works minister at the time of the fundraiser, but not when Sauvé got the contract.

Sauvé's company went bankrupt a year after getting the contract and subsequently lost the job.

During his testimony, Sauvé blamed a Quebec union for allowing the Hells Angels to "invade" his business.

The union, FTQ, later in the morning rejected Sauvé's testimony and challenged him to make the union-related statements outside of the committee walls. FTQ represents more than 500,000 workers in Quebec.

The committee passed a motion to halt all renovation work on Parliament Hill until MPs are satisfied contracts are being awarded fairly. Such a halt order would have to be approved by a vote in Parliament.

The RCMP is looking into the West Block contract.

House deals with issue

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper in question period in the House of Commons to explain the government's actions.

"We've been trying to get to the bottom of this sorry affair, and now there are lurid allegations about the minister [Paradis] and his cashmere coat. The question I have is why is this minister still in his job? And when will the prime minister tell Canadians the truth about this affair?" asked Ignatieff.

Officials have testified that there's absolutely no political interference in the contracts, Harper said.

"As for the minister's coat, the minister had an $800 coat stolen. He reported that to the police," said Harper.

Things got testy in the House after Bonnie Crombie, Liberal MP for Mississauga-Streetsville, asked a question about the renovation.

"When will the prime minister hand the minister his designer coat and show him the door?" asked Crombie, who went so far as to allege extortion.

House leader John Baird said the facts need to be considered.

"The minister's coat was stolen from a restaurant in the city of Montreal. The minister didn't buy the coat in Holt Renfrew. He bought it in Thetford Mines. The coat is not worth $5,400. It's worth less than $800," Baird said.

Crombie then raised the point that Paradis admitted in October that he discussed government business with a contractor at a Tory fundraiser.

"The minister first said he didn't discuss contracts at the cocktail fundraiser. Now we know he spent some 40 minutes negotiating with a construction contractor who later received $650 million in contracts from Public Works," said Crombie.

"The fact is the Conservative operatives are running a kickback scheme. They give out contracts. They get kickbacks, and they had the minister's help. Does the prime minister condone this corruption, and if not, why hasn't the minister been fired from cabinet, or is that treatment reserved exclusively for cabinet ministers who are women?"

Baird responded that he would have "expected that from other members of her party, but not from this honorable member."

"Senior officials from the Department of Public Works have appeared before committee and said that the proper processes were followed, that there were no political interference with respect to any of these government contracts," said Baird.

With files from The Canadian Press