04/16/2014 12:53 EDT | Updated 06/16/2014 05:59 EDT

Ex-government engineer accepted trips, golf and cash in exchange for contracts

MONTREAL - A former Transport Quebec engineer says he was routinely bribed by construction and engineering firms in exchange for help with lucrative government contracts.

Guy Hamel told the Charbonneau Commission on Wednesday he accepted numerous gifts and favours in exchange for favourable decisions from his position on a selection committee for government contracts.

He also helped firms through his role as a project manager for provincial works projects.

The now-retired Hamel said he received cruises, golf trips, golf clubs, a ski trip, envelopes full of cash, hockey tickets and even a new retaining wall for his home.

The gifts began around 1990 but Hamel said he was never reprimanded for taking them.

At one point, a superior casually mentioned to him in a hallway that he needed to "calm down." But at no time was there any attempt to remove him or impose any kind of disciplinary action.

"If I understand correctly, the Transport Department, seeing that you were corrupt, put you on the shelf rather than fire you," chair France Charbonneau told the witness.

Hamel replied: "At first, yes, I suppose, depending on the extent of the mistake."

Hamel retired in 2005, having served 30 years with the government. While he was being plied with gifts, Hamel said he understood he had to help the firms gain lucrative government contracts and settle issues involving construction cost overruns — fake or otherwise.

He was also expected to lobby on behalf of the firms with his bosses, much like Montreal municipal engineers who testified at the inquiry in the fall of 2012 about how they'd been corrupted in a similar fashion.

In one example, a firm paid Hamel a total of $15,000 in three instalments around 1999 and early 2000 to help settle a bridge repair contract where the firm's estimates had come in too low.

In another, a construction firm paid for a Caribbean cruise and an engineering firm gave him $1,500 in spending money for the same trip after he helped in a contract to repair a stretch of highway in Montreal.

During the tendering process, Hamel admitted to having given the construction firm the province's estimates for the major project.

The corruption inquiry has been examining contracts involving the provincial Transport Department and political party financing.

The inquiry has heard that companies corrupted certain regional directors and mid-level managers who worked for the department by giving them high-end gifts like fishing trips, hockey tickets and bottles of wine.

But thus far, it has not been established the practice extended to any cabinet minister.

Hamel ended his time on the stand with a brief comment, saying he was "happy" to have been able to speak about the corruption.

"It was a heavy burden to carry," said Hamel. "I didn't see myself on my death bed telling my children."