The Harper government's Quebec lieutenant acknowledged in a heated Question Period that he was the guest of honour at a Conservative fundraiser last year that was organized by a construction firm working on a $9-million renovation contract on Parliament Hill.
The president of LM Sauvé, Paul Sauvé, told The Globe and Mail and Radio-Canada that almost a dozen people who worked on the federal project paid between $500 and $1,100 to mingle in a restaurant in Montreal with Christian Paradis, who was minister of public works at the time and is now in charge of Natural Resources.
"I organized the cocktail party after being told that it's part of the game, that it would be well seen, after getting the large contract," Mr. Sauvé said in an interview as part of a joint investigation by The Globe and Radio-Canada.
Mr. Paradis rejected opposition attacks in the House of Commons on Wednesday, saying he did not discuss Public Works business with the people at the fundraiser, who included architects, lawyers and construction workers. The 2009 event was also attended by members of Broccolini Construction, a firm that was promoting a plan to erect two large buildings for the federal government in the National Capital Region.
"At no time was there any discussion related to ministerial business. It was purely a fundraising meeting," Mr. Paradis said of the event, which was held to benefit the Conservative association in the riding of Bourassa.
The opposition parties ganged up on the Conservatives after news reports this week that the RCMP is investigating the contract awarded in 2008 to LM Sauvé. Critics expressed outrage over a report that LM Sauvé paid $140,000 between 2007 and 2009 to a Conservative supporter, business adviser Gilles Varin, who helped LM Sauvé obtain the contract.
"If Conservative organizers take a $140,000 cut on the renovations of our most cherished political institution, then I guess it confirms that the Prime Minister has no respect whatsoever for Parliament," Liberal MP Marcel Proulx said in the House. "Whose paws in the Conservative government were greased?"
Prime Minister Stephen Harper led the government's defence, distancing the current Conservative team from organizers such as Mr. Varin, who are better known for their involvement when Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney led the party.
"No member of the government is under RCMP investigation. On the contrary, if certain business people broke the law, we have rules and they will face the full force of the law," Mr. Harper said.
Asked whether the government had received specific reassurances from the RCMP, House Leader John Baird clarified his remarks, saying there is "no indication whatsoever" that government members are under investigation.
Still, the NDP pointed out that Mr. Varin has a criminal record dating from the 1970s, when he was found guilty of five counts of corruption and breach of trust, getting a $6,000 fine in relation to a kickback scheme in relation to Quebec government business.
"This is the government that rode into Ottawa on the horse of accountability. It said it would clean up Ottawa, but all it has done is replace dirty Liberal lobbyists with its own dirty Conservative lobbyists," said NDP MP Pat Martin. "The Public Works gravy train is alive and well, it just changed engineers."
The Bloc Québécois compared the situation to the previous Liberal government, in which the main ethical problems originated at Public Works, the department that long oversaw the sponsorship program.
The Liberals urged the Prime Minister to fire Mr. Paradis, but the government did not indicate that it was contemplating that move.