'Spokesman' for engineering firms describes bid-rigging

The self-described liaison between engineering firms and Union Montréal told the corruption inquiry about a kickback scheme that benefited the former mayor's party for more than six years.

Michel Lalonde says payments to Union Montréal went on until 2009

Michel Lalonde said his firm donated between $50,000 and $100,000 a year to Union Montréal between 2004 and 2009. (Charbonneau commission)

The self-described liaison between Montreal engineering firms and the Union Montréal party told Quebec's corruption inquiry about the details of a kickback scheme that he says directly benefited the former mayor's party for more than six years.

Michel Lalonde of Génius Conseil, testified Thursday that he was asked to act as the "spokesperson" for the construction firms in the decision-making process over which firms were to become eligible for lucrative city contracts.

Lalonde testified that he worked with former Union Montréal treasurer Bernard Trépanier to choose contractors from a pool of firms which were in on the bid-rigging and put forward their offers to the municipal selection committee.

According to Lalonde, three per cent of his firm's contracts then went to the municipal party's election fund, in the lead-up to the November 2009 city election.

Lalonde estimated that his firm gave between $50,000 and $100,000 a year to the party between 2004 and 2009.

Commission counsel Denis Gallant challenged Lalonde's description of himself as a mere a spokesperson for the firms in the scheme.

"When you say 'spokesperson,' it's really in fact 'coordinator of collusion?'" Gallant asked Lalonde.

"I say 'spokesperson on behalf of the firms. It gave us the elbow room to speak with the firms that were interested in the project."

Trépanier had a list of the upcoming projects, and Lalonde testified the two men would sit down and decide which bids to put forward to the selection committee. 

The winning firm would usually come in at four or five per cent under scale, he said. If they had actually competed, firms could have been forced to bid as much as 25 per cent under scale, Lalonde told the commission.

In exchange for the inflated contracts, they were expected to make significant political donations to Union Montréal.

Lalonde said the system continued even after Trépanier left Union Montréal  in 2006. He said he continued to work with Trépanier selecting the firms to bid, but they did so out of an office that Trépanier rented or at restaurants.

"Personally, I didn't see a change in the way things were done until 2009," he said, attributing that change to new provincial legislation and the newly-formed anti-corruption squad, Operation Hammer.

Lalonde said at one point he asked Trépanier if the practice was authorized.

"He said, 'Yes, listen, I've been in touch with Mr. [Frank] Zampino. He's up to date."

Frank Zampino, the former head of the city's executive committee, met Lalonde and Trepanier three times, Lalonde testified.

Lalonde said several other firms of varying size, including SNC-Lavalin and Dessau, were also involved and made payments to the party.

Cross examination of key witness

Earlier Thursday, the lawyer representing the former mayor's Union Montréal party spent the morning trying to pick apart last fall's shocking testimony from a former party organizer before the Quebec corruption commission.

Michel Dorval pointed out that one of the Martin Dumont's most explosive accounts — that the mayor was present when illegal party bookkeeping was being discussed — wasn't in the first account he gave commission investigators.

 "After reflecting, you decided to add that the mayor was there to give more importance to your testimony and drop a bomb in the inquiry. I suggest you invented it," Dorval charged.

"My answer is no," Dumont said.

Dumont testified in October that he had been concerned spending in the 2004 byelection was exceeding the legal limit and called a meeting with campaign organizer Marc Deschamps – a meeting at which, he said, Gérald Tremblay was present.

He told the commission that Deschamps presented a document showing two budgets – the official one, which fell within the legal financing range, and the "actual" budget, which exceeded that by about $40,000.

He testified that Tremblay left the room, saying he didn't want to know about the financial irregularities.

Tremblay has denied being part of any such meeting.

When Dumont met with investigators initially in September 2012 to prepare for his testimony, Dumont did not mention Tremblay, naming only Deschamps as part of that encounter.

"It's a troubling fact. You didn't mention any presence of the mayor," Dorval said, referring to the notes.

Dumont explained that he added the fact that the mayor was there in the next meeting, which he said he remembered while looking through financial documents in between his meetings with investigators.

Martin Dumont said his early notes, which did not mention Gerald Tremblay's presence at a meeting where illegal financing was discussed, were a work in progress. (Charbonneau commission)
  He said the notes were a working document, and he never considered them final. He said he considered the initial omission of Tremblay's alleged presence just part of the process of preparing for his testimony.

Commission chair France Charbonneau told Dumont that the mayor's presence would have been significant, and she asked how he could have failed to mention it until the followup meeting.

"It's hard to imagine that you said, 'By the way I forgot to tell you this.' It's an important element. [Dorval] is asking how could you not remember that in your first interview?"

Dumont stood by his testimony and said the account that he gave the commission was the full and complete version, to the best of his memory.

He said that he had added more details to many of the events he described in that first meeting during subsequent meetings.

"There were many anecdotes that I told, and many incidents I talked about," Dumont said.

"Each time, [the investigators] asked is there anything that changed in your mind? Do you want to modify things? Do you add things? In my mind, [the omission] was banal."