'Mr. Three Per Cent' describes his start in politics, with old Tories in Ottawa

MONTREAL – A powerful political organizer accused of being a key figure in Montreal corruption schemes is explaining how he got his start in politics — at the federal level, with the old Conservative party.

Bernard Trepanier, who has since become known in Quebec media reports as “Mr. Three Per Cent,” is taking the stand at the province’s corruption inquiry.

He says he first got involved in politics while working as a volunteer with the now-defunct Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 1983 in LaSalle, Que.

After the Tories’ 1984 election win, he went to Ottawa to work as an aide to several ministers — starting with Benoit Bouchard, then the minister of transport.

After Bouchard was shuffled to a different portfolio, Trepanier worked with a trio of other Tory ministers — including Suzanne Blais-Grenier and Andre Bissonnette, who was accused of fraud in a land deal and later acquitted by a jury.

Trepanier’s last post was with Monique Vezina in 1987. He would remain involved in the PC party until 1997 and he worked on the victorious leadership bid of Kim Campbell.

His dabbling in municipal politics began after his time in Ottawa ended.

The inquiry will not probe Trepanier’s federal activities because it is focusing exclusively on events in Quebec at the provincial and municipal level.

The former fundraiser from Union Montreal has been identified by witnesses as having collected a three per cent cut destined for the political outfit in exchange for contracts being granted to the firm.

Under the system described by some witnesses, Montreal had a construction cartel where companies boosted the cost of projects and split profits with the Mafia, corrupt civil servants, and Trepanier’s party.

But another witness this week says that the political party never saw any of that money.

Trepanier is one of three major witnesses expected to be heard by the inquiry — the others being former Montreal executive committee chairman Frank Zampino and ex-mayor Gerald Tremblay.

The elderly man appeared nervous as he took the stand Tuesday, coughing frequently.

The judge overseeing the inquiry, France Charbonneau, asked the witness if he needed water. Trepanier responded with a joke: “I don’t smoke enough cigarettes.”

Trepanier turned serious as the subject turned to political financing.

He said he did not believe Rene Levesque’s landmark political financing law of the 1970s had ever been respected at the municipal level.

The law, which has since been copied in numerous jurisdictions and at the federal level, banned corporate donations and limited personal contributions in Quebec.