A Parti Québécois minister caught on tape saying the fund she once ran systematically favoured construction tycoon Tony Accurso was speaking about another time, according to her former boss.
Élaine Zakaib, the Minister for Industrial Policy who was elected in 2012, was recorded in 2009 telling a top union boss that the labour fund she was then running "blocked" competition for funding from Mr. Accurso's competitors around Montreal.
Ms. Zakaib, who was in charge of a regional arm of the Quebec Federation of Labour's Solidarity Fund, has said she was talking about past practice when she spoke to QFL president Michel Arsenault. He backed her interpretation of the recording in testimony Thursday at Quebec's public inquiry examining corruption in the construction industry.
"She was speaking about another time. She sorted out the problem," Mr. Arsenault testified.
Mr. Arsenault maintained a defiant stance in his final day at the Charbonneau inquiry, saying he helped Mr. Accurso's businesses because they brought great returns to the investment fund.
Mr. Arsenault often relayed Mr. Accurso's concerns to provincial leaders, including PQ Leader Pauline Marois and then-premier Jean Charest. Mr. Arsenault maintained Mr. Accurso's interests overlapped with the backhoe and crane operators he represented.
But Mr. Accurso also provided Mr. Arsenault with a yacht vacation, $12,500 diamond earrings for his wife and home renovations. With journalists on the trail, Mr. Arsenault paid for the renovations and returned the earrings. He gave Mr. Accurso a carafe as a thank-you for the trip.
He said accepting gifts from bosses was common in his 40 years of union activism, "but different times brought different values."
Mr. Accurso is facing a long list of charges, while Mr. Arsenault has not been charged with any crime related to Quebec's corruption scandal.