Corruption probe asks about ties between engineering firm, Tory senator

OTTAWA – Quebec’s corruption inquiry is asking questions about the relationship between a Conservative senator and an engineering firm linked to illegal commissions.

Pierre Lavallee, the president of BPR Inc., made headlines on Monday when he admitted to paying thousands of dollars of his own money to help land lucrative contracts from the City of Montreal.

Lawyers at the Charbonneau commission on Tuesday continued to press Lavallee on his company’s contributions, but suddenly began a line of questioning about Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos.

They asked Lavallee if he knew about Housakos’s links to Union Montreal, the municipal party that allegedly benefited from cash kickbacks. He was also asked if he knew about Housakos’s role with the provincial ADQ party.

It was not clear why the commission lawyers were asking about the senator.

Housakos worked on Gerald Tremblay’s Union Montreal mayoralty campaign and in his administration in 2001-02. He later became fundraising chief for the ADQ.

Lavallee said he didn’t know Housakos until late 2008, when he hired him to head one of BPR’s wholly owned subsidiaries.

“We came to an agreement at the end of December 2008 and … a prime minister offered him a job as senator afterward,” Lavallee testified.

“And since you want to know the story, at the time of the job — I shouldn’t maybe be saying this — but being a senator seemed like a figurehead job. And so, he checked with the ethics officer that he had the right to continue with the job and that being a senator wasn’t something that took up a lot of his time.”

Lavallee said it later became clear that Housakos couldn’t fill both roles and the BPR job ended in the summer of 2009. BPR had previously told the Senate ethics officer that the job had officially ended on October 1, 2009.

In late 2009, the ethics officer cleared Housakos of any conflict of interest related to his time at BPR. A consortium including BPR had been awarded a federal contract involving Montreal’s Champlain Bridge while Housakos was on the payroll.

In May of 2009, Lavallee, other BPR executives and several other key engineering figures attended a Conservative fundraiser that Housakos helped organize.

Housakos told The Canadian Press later that year that he didn’t invite his BPR colleagues to the event, and didn’t know they were there until after the fact. He told the ethics officer he never discussed any federal contracts or business with anybody at BPR and didn’t even know they were bidding on the Champlain Bridge contract.

It was not the first time Housakos’s name has come up at the Charbonneau inquiry.

Other evidence introduced at the commission has shown Housakos met two other construction bosses at an exclusive club in Montreal in 2007 and 2008, while he was with the ADQ. One of those bosses, Paolo Catania, is now facing fraud charges.

Housakos has said he feels his reputation is being smeared by association, and wants to know why the commission has raised his name.

“But when you interact with people and meet with people and talk with people, you don’t assume that they will be accused or charged with serious crimes two or three or five years down the line,” he told The Canadian Press in November.

“When I met these individuals I had no reason to believe that, three or four years later, the things that are coming out would be coming out.”