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Ex-minister says he wasn't told of Parliament renovation woes

Former Public Works minister Michael Fortier waits to testify before the Commons government operations committee on Nov. 16, 2010.


A former Public Works minister says he wasn't told of problems with a company that went bankrupt a year after getting a big-money renovation job on Parliament Hill.

Michael Fortier told a parliamentary committee Tuesday he only got general briefings on the West Block renovation, and officials didn't get into the specifics of each of the department's many contracts.

"I don't remember us ever having a discussion around a particular contract that was causing grief to the department around the Hill renovations," Mr. Fortier said.

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"Not to say that the project itself wasn't an issue. It is, because it's huge. But there were no significant issues brought to my attention relating to one particular contract."

Mr. Fortier was Public Works minister when Montreal construction firm LM Sauvé won a $9-million contract to renovate Parliament Hill's West Block.

Company owner Paul Sauvé says he paid Conservative-connected businessman Gilles Varin $140,000 to help him get the West Block contract in 2008. Mr. Varin says he only got $118,000 for his work.

Mr. Sauvé's company went bankrupt a year later and lost the job.

The RCMP is now investigating the West Block contract, and a parliamentary committee is holding hearings into the affair.

Mr. Fortier told MPs he didn't know some of the people connected to the West Block controversy, including Mr. Varin and the former head of a Conservative riding association in Montreal, Gilles Prud'Homme.

Sauve claims Varin and Prud'Homme encouraged him to throw a fundraiser for the riding association in January 2009, months after getting the West Block job.

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Officials from several companies that got contracts with the federal government donated to the riding association at the fundraiser.

The party's guest of honour was Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis. He was public works minister at the time, having replaced Mr. Fortier several months earlier.

Mr. Paradis insisted last month that he did not discuss any government business at the fundraiser.

"At no time was there any discussion about government business," he told the House of Commons. "It was strictly a fundraising event."

He later acknowledged that he congratulated Mr. Sauvé on getting the job and that he listened to construction boss Joseph Brocollini gripe about the federal contracting process.

Mr. Brocollini also appeared at the parliamentary committee on Tuesday.

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He told MPs the owner of the restaurant where Mr. Sauvé threw the fundraiser invited him to the event. Mr. Brocollini said he has known restaurateur Riccardo Padulo for a long time.

"Mr. Padulo invited me to this cocktail party. I don't know why. I didn't ask him why he invited me. He just invited me," Mr. Brocollini said.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe has said Mr. Padulo has links to a Mafia clan.

"The owner of the restaurant where the cocktail party took place, Mr. Riccardo Padulo, is close to the Vito Rizzuto family, an influential member of the Mafia," Mr. Duceppe told the House of Commons last month.

Earlier this year, Mr. Padulo attended a funeral service for Nick Rizzuto. The patriarch of the family, 86-year-old Nicolo Rizzuto, was shot dead by a marksman's bullet in his home last week.

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