MONTREAL - A former Parti Quebecois transport minister has told the province's corruption inquiry that allegations of impropriety levelled at him by a witness are lies.
Guy Chevrette had sought an audience with the Charbonneau Commission ever since his name was mentioned by a witness last year.
On Thursday, the commission made good on a promise to hear him out.
What first angered Chevrette were allegations made by witness Gilles Cloutier in 2013 that he was involved in influence-peddling, political favours and cash payments to third parties.
Chevrette, a longtime PQ stalwart who was transport minister between 1998 and 2002, issued denials at the time and had been itching ever since to testify.
"It's a very serious lie, it's libellous," he said of Cloutier's testimony.
Cloutier is a retired longtime political organizer who worked in business development for major Quebec engineering firms Roche and Dessau.
He testified that he organized a fundraiser on behalf of a PQ candidate in 2001 where 15 construction executives paid $1,000 a head for a chance to chat with then-transport minister Chevrette.
Chevrette testified that a fundraising event resembling the one described by Cloutier appears in his agenda — but in 1999 instead of 2001.
Cloutier also testified about a $100,000 payment to Gilles Beaulieu, a friend of Chevrette's, for access to the minister. He said that after the payment was made, the businessman in question received government help in winning a lucrative municipal contract.
Chevrette, 74, described Cloutier's testimony as "crazy" and "unthinkable."
Chevrette said his job was complicated by major responsibilities and a limited budget. He defended having to push along projects that civil servants didn't approve of.
"It's true that I got involved," Chevrette said, adding if he hadn't some roads simply would have never been improved.
Chevrette's name came up at the inquiry recently during the examination of a contract to complete a seldom-used 31-kilometre stretch of road north of Montreal.
A bureaucrat testified the Transport Department had considered the project unnecessary, but that Chevrette's office had insisted it be done.
Inquiry counsel Paul Crepeau said that subject would be tackled Friday.
Chevrette said transport projects are more than just improving roads. Sometimes, contracts are awarded to regions simply to keep industries there operational.
On the issue of party financing, Chevrette said there were never any firm quotas for cabinet ministers or party members.
He said he went to a half-dozen fundraising cocktails a year, an activity he apparently detested.
Chevrette insisted that direct access to him was limited.
"There's a hierarchy before talking to a minister and it's the way it should be," Chevrette testified. "Otherwise, they'd get no work done."
The politician-turned-lobbyist represented Joliette riding from 1976 to 2002 and held several senior cabinet roles in various PQ governments.
He will be one of at least two former transport ministers to appear at the inquiry. Earlier on Thursday, current Liberal backbencher Julie Boulet confirmed she too had been subpoenaed to testify.
In other commission-related news, the province's second opposition party, the Coalition for Quebec's Future, said probe investigators have sought a meeting with Leader Francois Legault.
The Coalition said in a statement they want to meet with all party leaders and premiers who served during the period being investigated by the commission — from 1997 to 2012.
A commission spokesman had no comment on the Coalition's remarks.
The Charbonneau Commission is expected to file a final report by April 2015.
Chevrette returns to the stand Friday.
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