Charbonneau Commission takes a close look at Club 357's guestbook -

Charbonneau Commission takes a close look at Club 357’s guestbook

Martin Patriquin on a difficult day for Quebec’s political class


It was the day the Liberal Party of Quebec dreaded, and arguably the reason Jean Charest called a fall election—before two of his former ministers could further drag down the party’s already-tarnished name. It was a day in which two current city councillors, as well as its former executive committee chairman, were found to have frequently dined with the very people with whom the city was negotiating in two separate deals that eventually collapsed in a flurry of inflated estimates and, in one case, outright collusion. And it was a day when the public found out how Conservative fundraiser (and eventual Conservative Senator) Leo Housakos dined with Montreal construction magnates now facing numerous criminal charges.

This difficult day for Quebec’s political class started with the testimony of Érick Roy, supervising sergeant for the so-called Charbonneau Commission, the body investigating the province’s construction industry. Roy, a fresh-faced fellow of about 36, detailed how politicians — and the ones who arguably curried their favour — met at Club 357c, a Montreal-area club known for near-ridiculous levels of luxury and, oddly enough, its discretion. Between 2005 and October 2012, with the co-operation of 357c management, Roy and his cadre recorded the meetings between key club members—a bevy of construction and engineering types, for the most part—and these elected officials, as well as a bevy of political organizers, fundraisers and municipal government types who oversaw Montreal’s sizable land holdings.

At the provincial level, former Liberal cabinet minister (and Montreal-area MNA) Line Beauchamp visited Club 357c twice, both times at the invitation of Rosaire Sauriol, in February and May 2007. Sauriol, an executive with the engineering firm Dessau, twice hosted Beauchamp as part of the same group of 12 people, including Liberal fundraiser Pierre Bibeau, Montreal construction magnate Paolo Catania, Frank Miniccucci of the construction firm Simard-Beaudry, and City of Montreal executive committee chairman Frank Zampino. Coincidentally or not, at the time the City of Montreal was in the midst of negotiating a contract that would see the installation of some 30,000 water meters to businesses in the city. The company eventually awarded the contract in November 2007 was GENIeau, a consortium of … Dessau and Simard-Beaudry. The contract, which at $356 million was the largest in Montreal’s history, was cancelled in 2009 after the city auditor found the figures inflated and the tendering process entirely dubious. (In a release today, Beauchamp said she organized the meetings to discuss “different points of view on the situation of Quebec and the politics of its government.”)

Catania, a member and prolific attendee at Club 357, was indeed popular with politicians. He twice dined with former Liberal Cabinet Minister Tony Tomassi, who left office earlier under a cloud of fraud and breach of trust charges, as well as with Housakos in 2008. Yet Catania’s most frequent guest was Frank Zampino, who between 2005 and 2008 was the second most powerful man in the city, after Mayor Gérald Tremblay. Zampino dined with Catania nine times between May 2005 and December 2008. In 2008 Catania, often seen in the company of since-deceased mobster Nick Rizzuto, bought a parcel of land known as Faubourg Contrecoeur from the city for $4.4 million, even though it was worth seven times that.

Catania twice dined with Zampino in the months following the latter’s retirement from the city. On May 17, both Catania and Zampino were arrested in connection with the Contrecoeur deal. Also arrested that day: Catania Construction VPs Pasquale Fedele and Martin D’aoust, former city land holdings president Martial Fillion, former Union Montreal fundraiser Bernard Trepanier and Catania director-general André Fortin. Coincidentally or not, all had graced the tables of Club 357c with Paolo Catania at one time or another between 2005 and 2010.

Roy’s police log says that Leo Housakos met with Bernard Poulin on May 17, 2007. It was around this time that Poulin, an influential Montreal businessman, was recorded on tape talking to construction magnate Tony Accurso about getting former Montreal director-general Robert Abdallah nominated as president of the city’s port authority.  On the tapes, first brought to light by the Bloc Québécois in April 2011, Poulin can be heard saying that he’s going to meet Houdakos, who Poulin said had considerable influence with former Harper spokesperson Dimitri Soudas. Abdallah was passed over for the post. In an interview with the Canadian Press, Houdakos didn’t deny meeting with Poulin or Catania, though said his name was being smeared in a “guilt by association campaign” and a “witch hunt.”

The Charbonneau Commission, which will recess after a brief day tomorrow, hasn’t finished thumbing through Club 357c’s guestbook. Denis Gallant, the commission’s assistant prosecutor, said Érick Roy will return to the stand in January when the commission picks up its work. Heads might not roll; but once again they’ll probably shake vigorously in denial.