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Hydro-Québec paid crane operators not to work, corruption inquiry told

Justice France Charbonneau heads the Quebec inquiry looking into allegations of corruption in the province’s construction industry.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Quebec's public hydro utility paid a dozen unionized crane operators to do nothing over two years, an investigator with the province's corruption inquiry has testified.

Michel Comeau said on Monday his team of investigators met with 70 workers from several major construction projects across Quebec, most of whom were too afraid to testify at the Charbonneau inquiry.

Among his team's surprising findings was that Hydro-Québec paid crane operators represented by the powerful union FTQ-Construction while German operators did the work on the Péribonka hydroelectric facility project from 2005 to 2007.

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Mr. Comeau said the project got off to a slow start as the union resisted having Germans work on the site.

"The [Quebec] workers were angry, saying the Germans are taking our jobs," Mr. Comeau said. "The launch was very difficult. The Germans were bullied. Their trailers were vandalized."

Hydro-Québec, the union and the German company, Bauer, eventually struck a deal to get the $1.3-billion project rolling.

The FTQ-Construction crane operators played cards or slept in their trailers while the work was done, Mr. Comeau said. By the end, some of the operators, who earn more than $80,000 a year, just stayed home, he said.

"If you want to talk about an aberration, this was one. It was tolerated and everyone knew," Mr. Comeau said.

Hydro-Québéc officials told Mr. Comeau that the workers were paid as part of their "risk management" plan, the investigator testified.

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