POLITICS

Inquiry hears contract info went from Montreal officials, to party man, to firms

03/28/2013 03:11 EDT | Updated 05/28/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - A former Montreal municipal-party fundraiser, referred to locally as "Mr. Three Per Cent," has admitted he received inside information about upcoming engineering contracts from a senior city official and then transmitted it to certain firms.

Investigators at the Charbonneau Commission suggested Thursday that Bernard Trepanier, an influential party official, often acted as an intermediary between city officials and the engineering firms and that he trafficked in privileged information.

Trepanier downplayed the significance of that information. He said he only supplied engineering companies with a heads-up about contracts that were coming as well as the results of meetings where city officials decided who got those contracts.

He continued to dispute the notion he was a key cog in making an elaborate collusion scheme work at the city.

Engineering firm executives described cartel-like practices with Trepanier in the middle — the man with connections to the city's powerful executive body who could keep engineering firms in the loop on upcoming contracts.

Firms were expected to pony up donations to ensure the city selected them for the contracts. Trepanier has been alleged by several witnesses at the inquiry to be an instrumental figure in such schemes.

Confronted with various elements gathered by the inquiry, Trepanier maintained he simply sold places at fundraising tables for Union Montreal and passed on information to firms via city official Robert Marcil.

"Can we consider this information as being confidential? That this is information that Marcil should have kept to himself?" commission counsel Denis Gallant asked Thursday.

''Maybe," Trepanier said. "It was an advantage that I had, knowing in advance."

Trepanier insisted he never knew how much the contracts were worth and that he wasn't involved in determining who won. The important thing was it gave him an advantage when it came to raising funds.

"You know that when we do sectoral financing, the electoral laws basically don't apply?" Gallant said. "What's important for you is cheques. Whether it's John Q. Public's name on the cheque or Monica Lewinsky's, it doesn't matter. What's important is reaching your financing goals."

"Correct," Trepanier said simply.

Phone records show countless calls between Trepanier and various people, including the city's then-public works director and Michel Lalonde, the head of an engineering company who has admitted to leading an industry cartel.

The calls came on days when officials secretly met to decide how to dole out contracts, which Trepanier brushed off as a coincidence.

There were also documented meetings between Marcil, Trepanier and former executive committee head Frank Zampino. But Trepanier was adamant his role was limited and he denied ever giving Marcil any money.

Trepanier admitted that such information went exclusively to those companies that donated to Union Montreal. The party no longer holds office and has been disintegrating into different factions since the resignation of Gerald Tremblay as mayor last fall.

Trepanier also continued to deny allegations he collected a three per cent cut of public contracts — which is how his nickname was coined in Quebec media.

Trepanier, a 74-year-old retired former federal Progressive Conservative aide turned municipal political organizer, says all he did for the party was sell tickets to fundraising events. He was employed on a full-time basis between 2004 and 2006.

He also took on clients — engineering and communications firms among them — through Bermax, a consulting company he founded where he did business development and lobbying, among other tasks.

Earlier on Thursday, a communications executive denied a claim he billed SNC-Lavalin for work he actually did for Union Montreal during the 2005 election.

Andre Morrow, the spouse of former federal Liberal cabinet minister Liza Frulla, trumpeted his ties with various provincial and federal Liberal governments.

Yves Cadotte, an engineering executive with SNC-Lavalin, previously testified he paid what he called a fake bill from Morrow worth $75,000 as part of $200,000 destined for Union Montreal.

Morrow, head of Morrow Communications, flatly denied the claim, saying the $75,000 was a retainer fee paid by SNC-Lavalin, negotiated by another executive, for his services. The deal was signed in February 2005 and he was paid in November of that year without having done any work, he said.

"Was the money to pay for things that Union Montreal should have paid? No," said Morrow.

He signed the retainer deal because he badly wanted the engineering firm as a client, describing it as a jewel of Quebec industry.

"You don't say no to SNC-Lavalin," Morrow said.

Any work he did for the party he billed directly to them and he was paid by Union Montreal, he said.

Morrow said he'd been involved with Tremblay since his time as a provincial politician and gladly accepted to help when he ran for mayor in 2001.

He did communications-related work, but never collected cash.

He has had long-standing ties with past Liberal leaders like Robert Bourassa, Daniel Johnson and Jean Charest. Federally, he has supported and worked with Jean Chretien, John Turner, Michael Ignatieff and Paul Martin.

"I love working in politics, I believe in politics," Morrow said.

Frulla, most recently a political pundit on Radio-Canada television, quit the network after Morrow's name surfaced at the inquiry.

The inquiry resumes again April 15 with Trepanier back on the stand.