Charbonneau inquiry: 2 star witnesses react to the report

Ken Pereira and Lino Zambito tell CBC News how the report will affect collusion in Quebec — and how it changed their lives.

Ken Pereira and Lino Zambito say the government still has lots to do

The Charbonneau Commission's inquiry on corruption heard from 291 witnesses, but only a handful became stars, making explosive allegations that rocked the construction industry, the city administration and unions to their foundations.

Here's how two of them reacted to the Commission's final report.

Ken Pereira
Union whistleblower

Pereira, a long-time union organizer, revealed that the former head of the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ), was defrauding the union with inflated expense reports and spending time with the mob and the Hells Angels.

On being thanked by France Charbonneau:

I was trying to show the people of Quebec that a voice can make a difference and she just recognized that, so it's kind of flattering.

On the importance of protecting whistleblowers:

It's important, but we have to apply it. Even in the States there's the whistleblower act but it's really hard. How can you protect someone who goes against the house or the people they work for?

I think a free media is the best protection a guy can have when they want to say something about an organization.

On how hard it was to be a whistleblower:

As a whistleblower you are put aside. No one talks to you so you're isolated. And because of people who are involved with organized crime, there's a lot of them who showed up at my door. I got phone calls late at night. Rats, I got a rat in front of my house. In a newspaper. My car was hit. A lot of people came over to me, tried to tell me that they were going to change my face.

On how how his life has changed:

Drastically. I've been a union boss for 20 years and all of sudden I'm on TV. Organized crime wants to see me. Media magnates call me up. It's surreal. Policemen follow you. Union people think you're on the other side. You don't know where to go. If you don't have a good structure and family, you might just lose it.

On the snow-clearing collusion:

Of course it's still going on! I said it and I'll say it again: it will be going on for a couple of years. We have to have the political parties' will to go forward and really attack the problem because people want to make money and they'll find a way to make money and if it's by collusion, they will do it

On how the inquiry changed people in the industry:

They are watching themselves more but I haven't seen a lot of change. They're happy that bigger contractors have gone down the drain so they can take the place. But they don't want to take their place just to be better. They want to have better contracts. They don't want to change the system at all.

It's very good for you when you're on top. I'm pessimistic, but whatever happens out of this, we can say we did something to change.

Lino Zambito
Construction boss

Zambito, the former vice-president of the construction firm Infrabec, was arrested in 2011 as part of Operation Marteau. In the inquiry, he explained in detail how a cartel of firms split contracts in Montreal and Laval. He pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy this year.

On what he thought of the Charbonneau Commission's final report:

When we look at the municipal part of it, the inquiry showed what system in place was, who the players were and how financing was made through municipal players. But it had a hard time showing the connection with the provincial system.

We saw presidents of engineering firms saying they financed  provincial parties, and in the meantime they got contracts from Quebec.

There's not a straight link like we saw in municipal, but the problem is there.

On being thanked for his courage:

I was a bit shocked when she mentioned my name. I was one of the first to take the stand as a civilian. A lot of people were watching me and saying, 'What is he talking about?'

But with time and more witnesses, it showed what I was saying was right. So in a way I broke the ice.

On how tough it was to testify:

When I met the people from the commission and saw what they had in their hands, I decided to turn my life and get out of the construction business. If I could testify and try to change a bit of the industry, my job was done.

I expected to testify for one day, but I was there for eight. I don't regret what I did by testifying.

On the repercussions in his life:

It hasn't been easy for my kids, but today was another step. There will be a bit of commotion for a day or two. Maybe eventually we can turn the page.

On how the report will clean up the industry:

It has to, the government has to act. It's a daily battle. You can't just put in a few recommendations and look again in 10 years. We need to stay sharp. Those guys doing collusion, they'll find other ways to get by.