The opposition is accusing the Conservatives of running a fundraising scheme in which companies that participated in a controversial renovation project on Parliament Hill were subsequently pushed to make donations to the party.
Saying they are finding more and more political donations from officials linked to the $9-million contract, opposition MPs raised a series of questions about the Harper government's ethics in the House. In particular, the Bloc and the NDP referred to recent revelations that the bonding company and a government mediator involved in the project participated in a 2009 fundraiser that was organized by the construction firm overseeing the contract.
"Does the government realize that this is increasingly sounding like a scheme to obtain political donations in exchange for government contracts?" Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe asked during Question Period.
NDP MP Pat Martin said there is a strong smell surrounding the contract, which is already being investigated by the RCMP and will be the focus of a parliamentary inquiry in coming weeks.
"The renovation of West Block is turning into a multimillion dollar fiasco. RCMP investigations, illegal lobbying, kick-backs and corruption, that is not good enough for one of our nation's finest heritage buildings," Mr. Martin said.
Government officials privately acknowledge the 2009 fundraiser leaves the wrong impression with the public, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government has imposed limits on donations, bringing them down to a maximum of $1,100 a year.
"It's not credible to say that such amounts can influence the awarding of contracts," Mr. Harper said.
The controversy surrounds a $9-million contract that was awarded in 2008 to construction firm LM Sauvé to renovate the historic West Block building in Ottawa. The RCMP is investigating allegations that a plugged-in Conservative supporter, Gilles Varin, acted as an unregistered lobbyist for LM Sauvé on the contract.
A few months after receiving the contract, LM president Paul Sauvé organized the fundraiser on behalf of a Conservative riding association in Montreal. The guest of honour was Christian Paradis, who is the Conservative Party's Quebec lieutenant and was the minister of public works at the time.
The participants at the event included the heads of construction and architectural firms who were working with Mr. Sauvé on the project, as well as an official from the bonding company on the contract, L'Unique Assurances Générales, and a lawyer who received a contract from Public Works to act as a mediator on the project, Howie Clavier.
Speaking to The Canadian Press, Mr. Clavier said the event was a good place to meet and discuss with various officials involved in the project.
"I can very ill-afford to pay $500 out of my pocket, but I went because I thought it would be good to maintain good relations with the various people that I was trying to maintain good relations with together," Mr. Clavier said.
One of the heads of real estate firm Broccolini Construction, which went on to win contracts worth more than $600-million from the federal government, was also at the event.
Earlier on Tuesday, the opposition used its majority on the government operations committee of the House to launch an inquiry into the controversy. The witness list includes Mr. Sauvé, Mr. Varin and Mr. Paradis, as well as Michael Fortier, the former senator and minister of public works.
The NDP succeeded in getting a motion approved calling on the government to stop awarding contracts for the renovation of all buildings on Parliament Hill until the end of the inquiry.