Quebec's corruption inquiry has heard that illegal political financing happened beyond the world of provincial politics and also permeated the federal level.
The issue was briefly raised today at the inquiry, was vaguely addressed, and was immediately dropped.
An engineering executive was describing how he used fake-billing schemes to funnel cash from his company to parties as illegal provincial contributions.
Then, when asked whether he used that practice to contribute to federal parties, Rosaire Sauriol, the vice-president of Dessau Inc., responded, "Yes."
And that was it. There were no more details about which parties might have received the cash, how much they received, and when they received it.
The mandate of Quebec's corruption inquiry does not extend to the federal level — so any questions about politics beyond the province are deemed out-of-bounds.
But that statement alone is enough to raise questions about whether federal parties were financed with illegal cash and, if so, which ones. There have been limits since 2004 on corporate donations to federal parties, while corporate donations were banned altogether in 2006.
The events that Sauriol has been describing in his testimony occurred as late as 2009.
Today's brief exchange was a rare example of the inquiry tiptoeing, however gingerly, beyond the confines of Quebec provincial politics.
The inquiry has also twice raised the name of Sen. Leo Housakos — although he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
At one point this week, an inquiry lawyer suddenly began asking the head of another engineering firm, BPR, about the senator's work and the company and his appointment to the upper chamber of the Parliament of Canada.
While testifying today, Sauriol said his company gave more than $1 million to provincial parties between 1998 and 2010 — about 60 per cent of it to the Liberals and 40 per cent to the Parti Quebecois.
However, that does not include the contributions Sauriol said went through a network of middlemen not associated with the company who were reimbursed for their donations.
That sum also does not include the multitude of donations to municipal parties inside and outside Montreal that Sauriol said the company made.
It does not include federal donations, either.
Sauriol said the provincial donations were made by cheque and the company would reimburse employees in different ways: cash, expense accounts and inflated gas mileage.
He said Dessau would get its hands on valuable cash currency by sending cheques to different companies; creating falls bills for work never rendered; and receiving cash in return, minus a 10 per cent commission Dessau paid the other company for its service.
He testified yesterday that his company donated $2 million through false-billing schemes alone, at the municipal and provincial level, between 2005 and 2010.
The brief exchange today about federal politics came following a question from an inquiry lawyer who was trying to get a more specific tally about how the dollars were used.
The company has already reported its wrongdoing to authorities. Sauriol said Dessau stopped the practice a few years ago and paid a fine to cover back taxes and interest.
Sauriol said his own company president, his brother Jean-Pierre Sauriol, was aware of the scheme. The company, Quebec's third-biggest engineering firm, was founded by their father.
The inquiry has already heard about illegal or questionable fundraising practices at other firms. For instance, the country's biggest engineering company, SNC-Lavalin, admitted it reimbursed employees who donated to political parties.
Photo: Charbonneau Commission screenshot