Wiretaps show links to premier's husband; union chipped in for Accurso's yacht
It was another day of trying to pry straight answers from the former head of the FTQ at the Charbonneau Commission, as he denied approaching the Pauline Marois’s husband in 2009 to convince her to stop calling for an inquiry into corruption.
Last week, a wiretap suggested Michel Arsenault had leverage of Marois, who was opposition leader at the time.
Arsenault now claims that wasn’t the case, struggling to explain that when he said on the wiretap he had a deal with Marois’s husband Claude Blanchet and needed their help to stop the impending Charbonneau Commission, there were simply brainstorming.
“We thought that putting pressure on Claude Blanchet so he would put pressure on Marois was a good idea, but we decided not to,” said Arsenault.
Commissioners wanted more information on their deal with Blanchet, however.
“The deal is that the (FTQ) Solidarity Fund had a partnership in a public company controlled by Blanchet,” said Arsenault, adding that he wasn’t sure whether the deal would embarrass Marois or Blanchet.
“Politically I couldn’t tell you, because I didn’t cut that deal,” said Arsenault.
The corruption inquiry also wanted to know why one of the province's largest investment funds, designed to create employment and save retirement money for unionized workers, helped buy a luxurious yacht for a business tycoon.
In wiretap evidence played Wednesday, Arsenault is heard acknowledging that while the Solidarity Fund paid for half of Tony Accurso's boat, it was a good deal for the union.
The recorded conversation is between Arsenault and Yvon Bolduc, then-director of the Fund, and Bolduc says that the yacht, named the Touch, was billed to a company named Hyprescon which is half-owned by the investment fund.
Arsenault told Bolduc not to worry "This won't make get out because this isn't true. This is business as usual."
"And in any case we made a lot of money off it."
Bolduc can be heard agreeing to stay quiet, saying "I will keep my mouth shut."
When asked if his friendship with Accurso caused Arsenault to gloss over this investment, Arsenault said he had nothing to do with the decision, since he was in Ontario at the time.
The superyacht Touch was built from 1994 until 2004 and refurbished in 2008.
Arsenault worked for the Toronto branch of the United Steelworkers from 1996 until 2000, before running the Quebec branch.
He was named QFL leader in 2007.
The precise nature of the relationship between the former leader of one of the largest unions in Quebec and a leading construction company owner is being dissected at the Charbonneau commission.
Michel Arsenault, the former president of the Quebec Federation of Labour, is being pushed to explain his friendship with Tony Accurso, a once-powerful construction company owner who faces more than 900 charges of fraud and other crimes tied to corruption.
Arsenault said he only has two or three friends, and said Accurso is nothing more than an "acquaintance."
"I'm showing empathy for Tony Accurso, for what he's going through," said Arsenault, adding that at one point everyone wanted to be seen with the construction magnate -- everyone in Arsenault's eyes meaning politicians.
However the former union leader said there was nothing wrong with being friendly with Accurso, and said it was somewhat normal for Accurso to extend him an invitation to travel on his yacht.