03/14/2013 04:24 EDT | Updated 05/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Quebec corruption inquiry zeroes in on illegal party funding

Quebec's corruption inquiry continued Thursday morning with testimony from engineer Charles Meunier, who continued to testify about a system of collusion he says he played along with in order to ensure his business’ success in Montreal.

Meunier, a former employee of the firm BPR elaborated on yesterday’s testimony in which he admitted to handing over envelopes of cash to Union Montréal ‘s former chief fundraiser, Bernard Trépanier.

At first, Meunier said he went along with the “game.”

He said BPR had struggled to enter the Montreal market, yet started to receive projects once Trépanier entered the picture.

“The choice was to do this, or you won’t work in Montreal,” Meunier said.

But he said the process disgusted him.

“When I started at BPR I was proud to work there,” Meunier said.

“But when I saw this affair in Montreal, I fell a little flat.”

When Commissioner Renaud Lachance asked Meunier why he didn’t report the collusion to police, Menier said he was afraid and felt the entire system was too big for him to take on by himself.

Illegal political donations

The corruption inquiry then turned its focus to illegal donations to municipal and provincial parties.

Meunier described in detail how donations to political parties would help garner favour for engineering firms like BPR.

He said he wanted to maintain a good relationship with provincial politicians, since municipalities such as Montreal depend on funding from the province for construction projects.

Meunier told the inquiry he saw maintaining that relationship as part of his job.

“I think elected officials have an important say on the contracts or investments that [a city] makes,” he said.

While he did not recall being specifically instructed by BPR to donate to political parties, Meunier said his boss was well aware of his actions.

Meunier told the commission that he consulted with BPR before making any donations and he saw his year-end bonus as a reimbursement for the donations.

Union Montréal donors reimbursed by their bosses

Findings from the inquiry's own investigation into a list of Union Montréal financial donors were also revealed today.

André Noël, an investigator with the commission, told the inquiry the majority of Union Montréal donors investigated – 10 out of 16 addresses – are suspected of making political donations to the party on behalf of friends or colleagues.

Noël said one of the individuals even told investigators they were reimbursed for a donation by the candidate himself.

The inquiry also heard from four witnesses from various Montreal businesses, who all admitted they were asked at least once by their bosses to make a political donation to Union Montréal.

They were reimbursed for the donations by their bosses, via direct deposit, cheque and, in one case, cash.

Charbonneau cracks a smile

A rare instance of laughter interrupted today’s proceedings, when a comment from Meunier prompted the typically wry Francis Charbonneau to crack a smile and chuckle.

Meunier started to describe the Charbonneau commission as a massive inquiry, but then stopped himself.

“I was going to say it’s a monster … but I realize it’s your name,” he said, addressing Charbonneau.

Charbonneau replied with laughter.