Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Inquiry Chair Snaps at Witness: "Were You Stupid and Incompetent?"

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Inquiry Chair Snaps at Witness: "Were You Stupid and Incompetent?"

Article excerpt

'You were stupid, incompetent?' inquiry chair asks

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MONTREAL - The head of Quebec's corruption inquiry lost patience with a witness testifying Wednesday about his relationship with construction bosses.

The former head of Montreal public works, Robert Marcil, was seen as being cosy with company owners but he wrapped up his appearance on the witness stand by continuing to deny that he knew anything about the collusion and bribes.

He denied accepting money in return for favourable decisions from the selection committees making the final call on contracts.

Phone and text-message records have shown that Marcil had extensive contacts with various Quebec contractors, despite his senior position at city hall.

He was even caught texting what inquiry officials described as sensitive information to one contractor. Marcil denied the accusation, saying it was public information and that he never told anyone about any conflict of interest.

At one point, commission chair France Charbonneau expressed annoyance with him when he said he couldn't remember if he had contacted a political fundraiser with details from public-works meetings.

"Are you saying that you were stupid and incompetent?" asked Charbonneau.

Marcil replied: "I'm definitely not perfect."

That prompted another put-down from the judge: "We agree on that."

Charbonneau has occasionally made wry remarks during testimony. But she has generally refrained from making blunt statements about witnesses, a tactic that triggered accusations of bias during the federal sponsorship probe against John Gomery.

This inquiry has heard that companies that won construction contracts would inflate the costs and share percentages with the now-deteriorating Union Montreal party, along with the Mafia and corrupt civil servants.

Marcil began to sit in on more and more of the selection-committee meetings, even though he was admittedly dining with construction bosses at least two to three times a year. Phone records to his city-issued phone showed frequent chats with them.

He was confronted with telephone records that showed a Union Montreal party fundraiser, Bernard Trepanier, would call Marcil early in the morning just as meetings wrapped up.

Asked if he was telling Trepanier the results of those meetings, Marcil said he couldn't remember the exact conversations.

Marcil continued to state that gifts for civil servants like wine, hockey tickets, golf and meals had been an accepted practice across Quebec for many years.

Small gifts, Marcil said, were seen as keeping good business relations. He said he also received gifts and handed them out when he worked in private firms.

The engineer had his employment terminated at the city after it came to light that he'd taken a trip to Italy on the dime of a construction boss, Joe Borsellino, of Garnier Construction.

Asked what the difference was between getting cash and having someone pay for the trip itself, Marcil said he viewed someone paying for a trip as a favour. …

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