Michel Arsenault, ex-FTQ president, testifies at corruption inquiry

The Quebec corruption inquiry resumed today with much-anticipated testimony from Michel Arsenault, the former president of the province's largest labour federation.​

Former head of Quebec's largest labour federation answers to his ties with Premier Pauline Marois

Former FTQ head Michel Arsenault says the union's investment fund is a 'success story'. (CBC)

The Quebec corruption inquiry resumed today with much-anticipated testimony from Michel Arsenault, the former president of the province's largest labour group, the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ).

During his testimony Monday, Arsenault was grilled on how much he knew about the infiltration of organized crime into the union's investment fund.

Arsenault's long-winded answers prompted inquiry lawyer ​Sonia Lebel​ to snap her fingers at one point in an attempt to rein in one his speeches.

The former head of the FTQ called the union's multibillion-dollar investment fund — which was allegedly controlled by members of organized crime — "a success story."

“There’s a saying in English: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Arsenault told the commission, saying there was no need to change the way the fund was run — because it works.    

The inquiry responded with more evidence from wiretap recordings.

Lebel asked him why a man with ties to the Hells Angels got approved for union funding.

“I believe in rehabilitation,” Arsenault said, adding that he believes people can change.

The former union head denied there was ever a fast-track to the fund's money for certain construction companies, and said he never approved a project without going through the executive.

Arsenault was asked whether he knew one of his union officials had discussed union business with Raynald Desjardins ​— a Rizzuto clan associate. 

“No,” he responded.

But the commission heard a wiretapped phone conversation, where Arsenault was heard saying the union leader was taking orders from "the Sparrow" — code for Desjardins.

“We often brainstormed,” said Arsenault about the wiretap conversations.

He was also asked about his relationship with construction boss Tony Accurso.

“He’s not a friend who I see every week, but we see each other on occasion,” Arsenault said, adding he had dinner with him shortly after his retirement in November 2013.

Wiretap evidence mentions Premier Pauline Marois

This was Arsenault's first appearance before the Charbonneau commission, although the inquiry has heard him in dozens of wiretap recordings. Arsenault was elected to the federation's top job in 2007 but announced in November that he would not seek re-election.

Last week, the inquiry heard a recorded conversation between senior union officials.

In wiretap evidence from 2009, Arsenault can be heard promising another union official that he had spoken to Premier Pauline Marois, who was the leader of the Official Opposition at the time, about preventing the corruption inquiry from happening. 

In the recordings, Arsenault also mentions a "deal" he has with Marois's husband, Claude Blanchet.

Blanchet directed the FTQ's Solidarity Fund​ between 1983 and 1997.

The former FTQ president fought hard to block the inquiry from using the wiretap evidence, which was recorded by police.

The union effectively lost that battle in October, when a Superior Court justice refused an appeal for more time to make a case against the release of the wiretap evidence.