MONTREAL—Speaking at the Charbonneau Commission for a second day, retired engineer Luc Leclerc blamed a culture of tolerance for unethical behaviour at the City of Montreal for his weak conscience.

On Wednesday, Leclerc admitted to over $500,000 in kickbacks, gifts and trips for his part in artificially increasing the cost of city contracts. After a day of remorseless testimony, he returned on Thursday to blame his bosses.

“There’s a pickup truck that stops at the office, he drops the tailgate and gifts for everyone are in back. There’s my name on one of them, so I put it in my car like everyone else,” said Leclerc.

“It was the office norm, it had been like that for generations!”

According to the engineer, accepting gifts was the rule, not the exception. Entire departments, from secretaries to department heads were treated to freebees. Saying no wasn't easy.

“I couldn't turn it down; otherwise people would have given me looks. There's no way I could have integrated with the team,” said Leclerc.

In that context, Leclerc says it became much easier to accept the hundreds of thousands in bribes he eventually took. Only the city's newly adopted code of ethics changed that, and that was only because pressure from the press was mounting.

“The party was over,” said the engineer. “Everyone knew what we did wasn't right.”

Legal experts say we shouldn't be surprised to see witnesses like Leclerc be so forthcoming: what they say during the commission can't be used against them.

“It’s in their interest to say as much as they can and to talk about corruption as much as they can to protect themselves against future criminal accusations,” said lawyer Christopher Dimakos.

That might explain why Leclerc, like last week’s witness Gilles Suprenant, transferred all his assets to relatives before taking the stand.

But while the admitted bribe-taking engineer admitted to taking kickbacks from 1995 until his retirement, he said Montrealers still got good quality workmanship despite being overcharged for construction projects.

Justice France Charbonneau, who is leading the inquiry, directly challenged Leclerc on this issue, asking "So you dug into taxpayer's pockets to refund what contractors gave you?"

"Taxpayers still got a good deal out of it," retorted Leclerc, who was responsible for authorizing extra work on contracts. "I never compromised on quality by accepting cheaper materials."

He did, however, approve millions of dollars in phony bills and fake costs.

The commission is now on recess until Nov. 12, when it resumes, it's expected to hear at least one other high-ranking city of Montreal official suspected of corruption.