It was a public inquiry that shocked taxpayers with descriptions of cash envelopes, tales of graft and allegations of dodgy political financing. No, not Charbonneau. This one, chaired by Mr. Justice John Gomery seven years ago, delved into the federal sponsorship program and helped scuttle the federal Liberals’ political fortunes in the 2006 election that first brought Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to power. The newest inquiry in Quebec, headed by Madam Justice France Charbonneau, has been creating a sense of déjà vu: Testimony so far has forced both Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay and Laval’s mayor for life, Gilles Vaillancourt, to step down. But the Charbonneau inquiry has a broader scope, is ongoing, and has yet to look at provincial public-works contracts. Here are some similarities, to date, between the two events:
Gomery inquiry: Well-connected advertising firms get millions in sponsorship contracts for little work, then they kick back money to the federal Liberals.
Charbonneau inquiry: Well-connected construction firms bribe officials so they can overcharge on paving and sewer contracts, then they kick back money to municipal and provincial politicians.
First big confessional moment
Gomery inquiry: Ad executive Jean Brault testifies that Liberal organizers pressed him into giving them more than $1.2-million in cash, phony invoices and other disguised payments in exchange for government contracts and favours.
Charbonneau inquiry: Construction entrepreneur Lino Zambito testifies that he was part of a collusion system that gave 3 per cent of city contracts’ value to the coffers of Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s party, with city engineers and the mob also getting a cut.
Anecdote involving cash and a bathroom
Gomery inquiry: Mr. Brault describes going to an Italian eatery, Ristorante Frank, to meet Liberal fundraiser Giuseppe (Joseph) Morselli. Mr. Brault put an envelope with $5,000 in cash on the table and left for the bathroom. When he came back it was gone. “The conversation went on as if nothing had happened.”
Charbonneau inquiry: Martin Dumont, a former political aide for the Union Montreal party of Mayor Gérald Tremblay, testifies that construction boss Nicolo Milioto told him to have a “bathroom break” with him. As they stood before the urinals, Mr. Dumont said he was handed $10,000 in an envelope.
Gomery inquiry: Party official Daniel Dezainde sacks a friend of Mr. Morselli. Mr. Dezainde testifies that he got scared and spoke to police after Mr. Morselli warned him that “From now on, it's war.”
Charbonneau inquiry: Mr. Dumont said that in 2007 he inquired about a roadwork contract attributed to Mr. Milioto’s firm that seemed too high. Mr. Milioto warned him: “You know, Martin, my sidewalk foundations are very thick and deep … you don’t want to end up in my sidewalk foundations.”
Gomery inquiry: Advertising executive Jean Lafleur spends sponsorship money on VIP tickets to the Montreal Grand Prix. He claims that the sight of guests enjoying themselves in a corporate box gives “warmth and a human face” to the sponsorship program.
Charbonneau inquiry: Montreal city engineer Gilles Vézina, whom construction entrepreneurs plied with pricey dinners, golf games and hockey tickets, justifies accepting the freebies because “it was common practice at the city, part of a business model.” He says he drew the line when he was offered the services of a hooker.
Gomery inquiry: Jacques Corriveau, a friend of Jean Chrétien who made $8-million from the sponsorship program, blames anesthesia from a surgical operation for his inability to remember key details.
Charbonneau inquiry: City engineer Gilles Surprenant, who pocketed more than $600,000 in bribes, blames his memory lapses at the witness box on tranquilizers he has been taking to soothe his guilt-ridden conscience.
Embarrassing mash note
Gomery inquiry: “Thank you again for your invitation to attend the last game played by the Canadiens in the Montreal Forum, the tour of the Molson Centre, the dinner at Château Champlain, the private box at the Forum, the ovation for Serge Savard, the pink champagne in the suite after the game, so many marvellous memories that will never fade. I am very grateful to you for them.” – former Canada Post head André Ouellet after he was entertained by ad executive Jean Lafleur.
Charbonneau inquiry: “Dear Lino … The roses were magnificent. Forty times thank you.” – Quebec municipal affairs minister Nathalie Normandeau after Mr. Zambito sent her office a bouquet of 40 roses for her 40th birthday.