MONTREAL – A witness at Quebec’s corruption inquiry says his engineering firm funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to political parties in the last decade in the hope of getting an advantage when it came to securing public contracts.
The biggest share went to the Parti Quebecois, which was among the most vocal of those who called for the corruption inquiry. It now forms the government. The Liberals and, to a lesser extent the now-defunct ADQ, also got sizeable amounts.
Michel Lalonde, president of Genius Conseil, said during testimony Tuesday that gifts were also given to a member of a Transport Department contract selection committee.
While Lalonde acknowledged he wanted to grow his business and position it for future contracts, he also said he was encouraging democracy by giving money to the parties.
“I always contributed to all political parties,” he said.
“I never considered not paying.”
The testimony was among the first at the inquiry into construction industry corruption that pointed a finger beyond bid-rigging at the municipal level.
The firm kicked almost $240,000 into the coffers of Quebec’s three political parties as it attempted to curry favour.
Documents from Quebec’s chief returning officer tabled at the commission say that between 1996 and 2011, the Parti Quebecois got $117,445, followed by $93,640 for the provincial Liberals and $28,700 for l’Action democratique du Quebec, which has since been merged with the new Coalition party.
Lalonde said contributing money to political parties with the goal of seeing a benefit is part of Quebec’s democratic history.
“It’s been like that since Duplessis,” he said, invoking the name of the strongman Union nationale premier whose legacy has forever been linked to patronage.
Lalonde didn’t just rely on networking to get the contracts, however.
He said he also did his homework, using the province’s access to information act to find out who was serving on the selection committees.
Lalonde says that the contributions to various provincial parties were made by many employees at Genius and their spouses — and they were reimbursed, usually through expense accounts and bonuses.
Such a practice is illegal, as it is used to circumvent the law that bans corporate political donations and sets limits on donations from individuals.
Lalonde also testified that Gilles Thibodeau, a member of the Genius board, gave gifts to a man who sat on a Transport Department committee that recommended firms for contracts.
Among the gifts to Claude Millaire between 2004 and 2010 were a camera and cash in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $3,000.
His cellphone bill was also paid for him, between 2004 and 2010. Lalonde said Millaire continued to co-operate with Genius when Thibodeau left the company.
The inquiry has already heard about some illegal donations at the provincial level, but so far has mostly focused on systemic corruption schemes alleged to have occurred in municipalities.
Lalonde’s testimony followed allegations on Monday that he and his firm had contributed to Vision Montreal, the city’s main opposition party, as well as the political campaigns of the mayors of several boroughs around Montreal.
Two of those mayors had made the jump to municipal politics from the provincial Liberal caucus in the legislature.