Fallen construction boss says he fundraised for provincial Libs to win contract

MONTREAL – A crime-linked Quebec construction boss says he helped organize a partisan fundraiser to cosy up to powerful politicians before winning a provincial contract.

Paul Sauve told the province’s corruption inquiry he was worried he’d lose a contract to renovate Montreal’s St. James United Church after the Liberals took office in 2003.

The project was awaiting $2 million in grants, guaranteed by the previous Parti Quebecois government, and Sauve testified he was worried things might be scrubbed by the new administration because he’d organized an earlier fundraiser for the PQ.

He said he acted on advice from a contact at the BCP communications firm and built ties to the Liberals. He said he contacted about 15 to 17 people for a $1,000-a-ticket restaurant fundraiser for then-municipal affairs minister Jean-Marc Fournier.

He said the minister hinted strongly that his contract was in peril.

“(Fournier) told me, ‘Your project is really nice but I have $300,000 to (renovate) all the churches in greater Montreal,’ ” Sauve said in recent testimony, which was under a publication ban that was lifted late Thursday.

The project was eventually approved. That was after Sauve invited those 15 to 17 people to a Crescent Street fundraiser in Montreal attended by about 50 people overall, he testified.

He testified that his company later reimbursed employees for contributions they made at the event — which skirted Quebec’s political-financing law.

Sauve went on to help at fundraisers for other Liberal ministers: Line Beauchamp, who is now out of politics, and Claude Bechard, who died in 2010.

Fournier has since worked for the federal Liberals and is now the acting head of the provincial party in the legislature because Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard does not have a seat.

Fournier held an evening news conference after a publication plan on details of Sauve’s testimony was lifted late Thursday.

He categorically denied any link between the fundraiser and the contract going to Sauve. He also challenged the PQ to explain the extensive donations it had received from Sauve.

BCP also issued a statement denying the testimony.

Sauve’s company, LM Sauve, was eventually overtaken by the Hells Angels and went bankrupt.

He also organized a fundraiser for the federal Conservative party in 2009, months after winning a lucrative contract from Public Works to renovate Parliament’s West Block.

He has since said he also paid a Conservative insider, Gilles Varin, $140,000 to help him win the $8.9-million contract to restore part of the parliamentary building. Varin has said he only got $118,000 for his work.

LM Sauve went bankrupt a year later and lost the Parliament Hill job.

Meanwhile, the overall cost of renovating the crumbling West Block has passed the $1-billion mark, according to federal documents.

The price tag for the renovation has soared since 2005, when Treasury Board approved $769-million to restore the building.

The Charbonneau inquiry testimony is the fourth bit of unwelcome news to hit the Quebec Liberals this week. While the party is leading in the polls, it has been smacked with confirmed reports that its headquarters were raided by police in July; that Couillard has met with investigators to discuss internal party matters; and that an MNA used Jewish community daycare spots opened up by the past Liberal government in a sales pitch for donations at a synagogue.