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Businessman has little to tell MPs probing Parliament Hill renovation

Gilles Varin showcased a discreet business style as he appeared before a parliamentary committee to explain his role in a $9-million renovation contract on Parliament Hill.

He refused to provide a list of his clients, and remained vague when asked about his conviction in the 1970s on charges of political corruption, saying he had forgotten the details.

Mr. Varin did talk about a controversy in 1993 in which he was alleged to have engaged in unregistered lobbying on behalf of an airline, but simply to say that he was not reprimanded by the Commissioner of Lobbying.

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He made it clear he is at ease in the worlds of business and politics, relishing his role as a networker who promotes charitable causes, political interests and his clients' businesses. He explained that he is a supporter of the Conservative Party, but has also donated to the Liberals over the years in support of some of his friends in the party.

On his dealings with construction firm LM Sauvé, which got a contract in 2008 to renovate a historic building on Parliament Hill, Mr. Varin provided little explanation of the work he did in exchange for a retainer of $5,000 to $10,000 a month.

"I am a strategic adviser in communications and business development, and that's what I did," Mr. Varin said.

He explained that he received a total of $118,000 in payments from LM Sauvé starting in 2007, when it bid on the Parliament Hill contract, until the company entered bankruptcy proceedings in early 2009.

Mr. Varin said he advised LM Sauvé on business opportunities, handing out the firm's brochure to his contacts in the private sector. Throughout his testimony, Mr. Varin insisted that he did not intervene with any government officials and therefore did not need to register as a lobbyist.

"I have done nothing wrong," Mr. Varin told the government operations committee of the House.

Still, Mr. Varin said he might have given a promotional document from LM Sauvé to Hubert Pichet, a long-time Conservative supporter and staffer in the office of Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin. In addition, he said that he once introduced Mr. Pichet to LM Sauvé president Paul Sauvé at a restaurant in Montreal.

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As the hearing neared its end, the Conservatives on the committee said Mr. Varin's testimony bolsters the argument that there was no political interference in the awarding of the contract, which is under RCMP investigation.

"We're on a fishing expedition in a place where there's no fish," said Conservative MP Chris Warkentin.

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