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Opposition demands minister's resignation over West Block affair

Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Oct. 7, 2010.

CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

The opposition is slamming the fundraising practices of the Conservative Party and calling for the head of Quebec lieutenant Christian Paradis, who attended a fundraiser last year with the recipients of a $9-million contract on Parliament Hill.

Saying the Harper government is mixing federal contracts and donations to the party, opposition MPs used Question Period to attack the government's standing on ethical issues.

"It is not okay for a minister of Public Works to shake down contractors at a so-called fundraiser," said NDP MP Pat Martin. "Are they going to make room in the hall of shame over there and fire that minister?"

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In 2008, construction firm LM Sauvé obtained a $9-million contract to renovate the West Block building on the Hill. A few months later, the company's president, Paul Sauvé, organized a fundraiser for the Conservative Party's riding association in Bourassa, at which Mr. Paradis was the guest of honour. The cocktail party was attended in large part by members of Mr. Sauvé's team on the Parliament Hill project, including architects and other construction workers.

Under questioning in the House of Commons Wednesday, Mr. Paradis said there was no discussion about ministerial business at the fundraiser. On Thursday, Mr. Sauvé said Mr. Paradis thanked him for organizing the fundraiser, and that Mr. Paradis told him he was happy that a Montreal company had obtained the work on Parliament Hill.

"He offered me his congratulations," Mr. Sauvé said, noting the conversation was short.

A few months later, Public Works removed the contract from LM Sauvé, which had filed for bankruptcy and missed key deadlines on the project. Mr. Paradis was still in charge of the department at the time.

The Harper government rejected allegations of wrongdoing, saying it toughened up ethical standards after coming to power in 2006.

"If there are any of those rules, guidelines or laws that have been broken, we expect that they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," said Rona Ambrose, who replaced Mr. Paradis as minister of Public Works this year.

There were also fireworks in the House over the relations between LM Sauvé and Conservative supporter Gilles Varin. Mr. Varin was paid $140,000 between 2007 and 2009 to help the construction firm get the West Block contract, which is now under RCMP investigation.

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Conservative officials said Mr. Varin was never a member of the Conservative Party of Canada, and gave $400 in 2003 to a Liberal riding association. Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe replied there is much evidence of Mr. Varin's links to the Conservatives, including recent donations to riding associations and his work on election campaigns.

"When will the government admit Mr. Varin is an unregistered lobbyist, and a Conservative Party militant without a membership card," Mr. Duceppe said.

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