Quebec's corruption inquiry has introduced photographic evidence likely to become an enduring symbol of how the province's construction and union bosses took backscratching to another level.
The Charbonneau inquiry into the intersection of rigged construction contracting has heard thousands of hours of testimony about how industry bosses bribed other actors in the system. The testimony has also showed how political financiers, civil servants, politicians and union bosses gladly pocketed cash, hockey tickets, consumed expensive wine and meals and flew around the world on the dime of construction executives.
But a single photo spoke eloquently Monday about how the system worked. It showed construction magnate Tony Accurso waist-deep in Caribbean waters, applying what appears to be a thick layer of protective sunscreen to the back and shoulders of Jean Lavallée, a man described as a "god" in one of the province's biggest unions.
Mr. Lavallée, a founder and decades-long president of the FTQ-Construction union, is shown puffing on a cigar as Mr. Accurso and business associate Joe Lombard slathered on the lotion. The moment was captured during one of the half-dozen trips Mr. Lavallée admitted he took on Mr. Accurso's yacht, The Touch.
"He was a friend for 32 years," testified Mr. Lavallée, who also had a seat on the FTQ's multibillion-dollar investment fund, which was instrumental in funding some of Mr. Accurso's projects. His union also placed workers on projects run by Mr. Accurso.
"It was another time. Who would have thought it was a sin to go on a boat?"
Mr. Lombard, for his part, was in charge of a $1.4-billion expansion of the Alouette aluminum plant where FTQ-Construction also placed hundreds of workers. Mr. Lavallée said one of the Touch trips was to celebrate the success of that project. Mr. Lombard left Alouette in 2006.
Mr. Lavallée, who was described as an FTQ-Construction "god" by an underling who testified last week at the inquiry, led the 70,000-member union from 1981 to 2008. He was also director of an 18,000-member branch of electricians and held executive positions in the FTQ-Construction's parent labour group, the Quebec Federation of Labour.
Mr. Lavallée was heard on wiretaps in panic mode over investigative reports into union expenses that eventually forced Mr. Lavallée and fellow union boss Jocelyn Dupuis to leave. Mr. Lavallée said he tried to hide Mr. Dupuis's expense account scandal, which in one six-month period ending in 2008 amounted to $120,000 in restaurant meals alone.
"I was trying to save the union," said Mr. Lavallée, who insisted he had already planned to retire in 2008. "I was going anyway."
Mr. Lavallée insisted he never accepted a bribe. "Never, never never," he said.