Jocelyn Dupuis, a former director-general of the FTQ's construction wing, appeared relaxed as he calmly answered questions upon settling into the witness stand Thursday.
Wearing an open-collared shirt and tanned suit, Dupuis began his appearance by answering questions about the basic structure of the construction union.
On at least a half-dozen occasions he referred to his book — titled "Union Reps or Thugs?" He also described himself as a working man and a "born unifier."
Dupuis has been hard-hit by allegations from a former union member and by wiretapped phone calls gathered by provincial police during a separate investigation.
The inquiry has already heard him in wiretaps speaking chummily with a senior reputed figure in the Mafia, Raynald Desjardins, who is now imprisoned on murder charges.
In other recordings, Dupuis appeared to be rigging the election where his successor was chosen. In one recording he was overheard saying: "I'm the one who controlled that vote."
But he scoffed Thursday at the suggestion that union elections were rigged, insisting that the labour movement was truly "democratic."
A former crane operator who ran the construction wing for 11 years, Dupuis was pushed out over a controversy involving his expense claims in 2008.
He was subsequently employed by a decontamination firm the inquiry has heard was run by the reputed Mafioso, Desjardins.
Dupuis is not expected to be a co-operative witness. From the outset of his testimony, he said he disagreed with the calling of the inquiry.
A series of photos showed Dupuis' close ties to Tony Accurso, a once-powerful figure in the province's construction industry who now faces multiple criminal charges. Dupuis acknowledged that he took part in as many as 150 events with him.
"Mr. Accurso was one of the biggest business owners in the construction industry, so it was in our interest to establish ties with him," said Dupuis, who described Accurso as a friend.
"The work of a (union) president, of a director, is not to work 8 to 5 — it's really a job that's seven days a week... Our job is to make sure our workers get work and get referred to different companies."
The inquiry saw photos of Dupuis celebrating with Accurso during his birthday and other occasions. Among those also seen in the photographs was Henri Masse, the longtime FTQ leader.
Commission counsel Denis Gallant asked if Dupuis ever paid when they went out for dinner at Accurso's restaurant.
"Always ... well, not always. That would be a lie," Dupuis said.
"It was hard to pay when you were with Mr. Accurso."
Dupuis faces a criminal trial on fraud charges stemming from his allegedly inflated expense claims. The crown has claimed that Dupuis manufactured tens of thousands in phony invoices, which netted him $125,000.
According to a former union member who recently testified, Dupuis was also close to Normand (Casper) Ouimet, an alleged Hells Angels member who now stands accused of different crimes including involvement in 22 murders.
Dupuis has not been questioned about any of his organized-crime ties yet. He will have three days to prepare for those questions, as the hearings rose for the weekend.
"We'll talk about you Monday morning," commission lawyer Denis Gallant promised.