Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.
It's not the usual practice, but there's no reason why not. Is that right? It's entirely at the committee's discretion. If the committee wishes to have the witness sworn in, we can have the witness sworn in.
Seeing no objection, I'll ask the clerk to attend to the swearing in of the witness, please.
I understand that Mr. Varin may have to consult his lawyer, but I would like that consultation time to be deducted from the question period or from the time allotted to us to ask our questions to ensure we have the time to ask those questions.
Thank you for welcoming me here today. It's a pleasure for me to accept this invitation in order to correct certain statements that have been reported in the newspapers.
First of all, I would like to make an initial correction. Reference has been made to $140,000 or $150,000, but that figure is incorrect. The exact amount that was paid to me over a period of 30 to 34 months was $118,000. I received fees from Mr. Sauvé. He himself determined the amount of my fees, an amount that I accepted. That was done over a period of 30 months. However, I was consulted on many more files than the one we are concerned with.
I would also like to submit a document, an article that appeared in the October 27 issue of Le Devoir. I obviously didn't know it had to be translated into English. The clerk will therefore have it translated before it is submitted to you. I would like to introduce it. The third last paragraph states what was apparently said by Mr. Sauvé, who gave the interview:
The most recent contract was the one for $8.9 million to renovate the Canadian Parliament's West Block, a contract that was “obtained by call to tender and without any political involvement,” he added. This is obviously a very promising new client since the entire restoration program for the Parliament buildings in Ottawa is estimated at $1 billion.
I would like to submit this document for it to be distributed to committee members. I believe this article will confirm what I have to say today.
Mr. Varin, thank you for being here today. I did an Internet search on your company, Varin Communications, with little result. You apparently don't have much of an Internet presence. How do you go about finding your clients?
It's by word of mouth. I've been in the same occupation for about 40 years. Incidentally, I forgot to mention, even though I wanted to emphasize this, that I am not a lobbyist. I'm a strategic communications and business development consultant. I've been doing this kind of work for about 40 years.
Over those 40 years, I have probably had a few hundred clients. I haven't been able to count them exactly. I have always worked for fees with all my clients. For some clients, I received fees plus a commission, but I have always received fees from all my clients.
I've had a lot of clients in recent years, I've obviously had some in the private sector. Mr. Chairman, I don't know whether I'm being ordered to name them, but I haven't requested permission from those clients to name them today.
I don't really remember the case, sir. I really don't remember. It was, at any event, a case that had nothing to do with the government. It was Quebec's occupational training commissions at that time, where I had been a director general from 1969 to 1972 or something like that.
Mr. Sauvé called me up one day to meet with me. He told me he had done so on a recommendation by a member of his board of directors. I don't know which of the members it was. It was a board of a number of individuals. I had been recommended to Mr. Sauvé in that context.
I advised Mr. Sauvé on a number of files from the moment I was there. When I started working with Mr. Sauvé, we were far from thinking about the contract the Canadian government is concerned about right now, that is to say the contract to renovate the Parliament buildings. We didn't even talk about it when I arrived. I advised him and I introduced him to a large number of people in the business world. My client had just filed for bankruptcy at that time. He needed to rebuild a public image, which I helped to do.
I provided Mr. Sauvé with strategic advice on what he should do and on the kind of advertising he could use. I distributed a lot of his brochures throughout the business world, in the private sector, virtually everywhere where business could be done. I introduced him to general contractors because he acted as a subcontractor more often than not.
Look, I may have given Mr. Sauvé's CV or a brochure to Mr. Pichet. We met him entirely by chance at a restaurant. I introduced him to Mr. Sauvé. So it's possible I gave that to him at that time, but I don't remember submitting it to him more particularly.
Mr. Sauvé managed to appear on the short list of contractors likely to obtain the contract. Do you think he might have changed the criteria and thus been put on that short list without your intervention?
In fact, I don't think anyone can intervene to put someone's name on a short list at the federal, provincial or municipal level. Officials handle those files.
However, I advised Mr. Sauvé. His name was not put on the list of government suppliers. I advised him and told him that he should first be registered on the list of government suppliers and that he should introduce his company. Otherwise, he would not have been put on any list.
I don't know whether it was given to a PWGSC official. It's possible—I mentioned this earlier—that I gave the document, the presentation booklet, to Mr. Pichet. I don't remember whether I gave it to him, but that's possible. I gave it to no one else.
When Mr. Sauvé had his name put on the list of government suppliers, he forwarded all his documentation. His presentation was very good. He then submitted all his documentation to PWGSC. The officials no doubt received the CV at that time.
I don't remember the last time I had a card. That's negligent on my part. However, if I had been informed that I had to renew my membership card, I would probably have done so, but I never received any correspondence on the matter.
I obviously helped the Liberal Party MPs that I knew well. I remember very clearly going to a cocktail party for Mr. Coderre. I remember very clearly Mr. Denis Paradis, among others. I attended Mr. Chrétien's golf tournament twice, I believe. I went because it was for friends.
You know, outside politics—you are MPs, you know this—you make friends who don't necessarily have the same allegiance as you, who don't necessarily share the same opinion and you discuss that. You understand; that's life.
I understand. Based on your vast experience, after 40 years in the business, you have friends from all parties, and that's good. You are a strategic consultant, and you must talk to virtually everyone.
It's reported in the media that you were a Conservative organizer. Can you clarify that? Have you previously received money from the Conservative Party for work?
No, I've never received a cent from the Conservative Party. I've given it some money, but I've never received a cent from it. I organized things a few years ago, in the constituencies, at conferences, but I've organized nothing for the party in recent years.
Your extensive experience of more than 40 years has led you to spend time with a number of politicians. Has working with politicians from all parties been a pleasant experience? Or are you bitter instead because you have come before a parliamentary committee to rehash the past?
The media sometimes say things, but you may have to speak out to make your story known. What has been your personal experience with what has happened in recent months?
As you'll understand, what has happened is not among the most pleasant things that can occur. It's especially difficult for the family is such a case. I believe I can accept responsibility for what I do and what I've done. As I have nothing to apologize for in this matter, I'm trying to correct the facts.
I appreciate your testimony this morning and we appreciate getting to the bottom of many of the different allegations that are out there in the media and being brought forward by our opposition colleagues. Today it seems like we're on a fishing expedition. I usually don't mind fishing expeditions, except if nobody is catching any fish, and today that seems to be what is happening.
Mr. Varin, is the translation working for you?
I think we're still without translation for the witness, and my French isn't good, so I do apologize.
A voice: C'est correct.
Mr. Chris Warkentin: Très bien. We should thank the translators. Without them, we would be nowhere in this place. We do appreciate their work.
Mr. Varin, I wonder if you were aware of the Federal Accountability Act. When we were elected, our government was concerned, as most Canadians were, with the lack of accountability--at least perceived lack of accountability--in Ottawa. You, coming from Quebec, know the issues well. Obviously, the sponsorship scandal left a taint on this entire institution of Parliament.
So our government brought forward the Federal Accountability Act, an act that would ensure that people who were trying to buy influence on Parliament Hill would be identified and that there would be limits as to how they might be able to buy influence.
Are you aware of the Federal Accountability Act, Mr. Varin?
I'm familiar with that act. The reason I'm not on the list of lobbyists is that that's not what I do. I've never intervened with the government on this matter. If I had had to intervene, I would have registered.
Well, we appreciate that because that's counter to what many of the media have reported. You have been reported and identified as a lobbyist and so that's an important correction.
Mr. Varin, you're also aware that it's a contravention of the Federal Accountability Act to give a donation with the expectation of receiving anything in return. Did you ever give a donation to any political party with the anticipation that you would get something in return?
No, I made donations to the party on a voluntary basis. I very often attended cocktail parties. Those who were in a position to observe know that I have an extremely busy life with associations; I've chaired a lot of boards, I've done volunteer work all my life. When I worked for the party, it was volunteer work.
Mr. Varin, let me start just by clearing up the question by Mr. Regan of what you were convicted for in 1977. Our information is that you were convicted of five counts of fraud, corruption, and breach of trust. Would that be accurate, sir? You don't remember...?
Well, specifically, sir, when you were the chair of the apprenticeship division or whatever it was, you were shaking down a trading school for personal gain and therefore abusing your position of trust. That's what you were convicted for, in my understanding. Unless you have information to the contrary, that's what we understand.
That's not the point today, though. I'd like to know more about when you met Mr. Pichet and how long your relationship with Mr. Pichet goes back. Were you friends with Mr. Pichet when he was the executive assistant to Brian Mulroney?
Absolutely not, because, as you know, I had lunch with Mr. Sauvé on a number of occasions. I don't know the dates. I didn't keep an agenda concerning that. It often happened at the last minute. He called me and asked me if I was free for lunch. If I was free, it worked.
The reason I'm asking, sir, is that on January 26, 2009, Mr. Sauvé made a donation of $1,100 to the Bourassa riding association and $1,000 to Tory candidate Hubert Pichet, the candidate for La Pointe-de-L'Île. I'm wondering if there's any connection to you running into him in the restaurant, giving him Mr. Sauvé's leaflet and information, and then Mr. Sauvé feeling obligated to make a $1,000 donation to Mr. Pichet.
I wonder why that specific riding. He doesn't live in that riding. He just thought Mr. Pichet should get $1,000. And then Mr. Pichet, presumably, knows somebody in Public Works, because they very conveniently rigged the bid for this contract by changing fundamental parts of this contract three days before the tender closed. Otherwise Sauvé would never, never have gotten on that bidders list. He simply wouldn't have. He was out of his league. But if he pays $118,000 to you, you find a way.
I mean, why would a guy give you that kind of money unless he had an expectation of you fixing his problem getting onto this job? You'd have to be stupid to give somebody $5,000 a month so you can hand around leaflets to strangers on the street. I'm not an idiot, and I don't think Mr. Sauvé is an idiot.
We will. We will. To give somebody $5,000 or $10,000 a month as a businessman is a Hail Mary pass. He must have thought you could do something magic for him to fix his business--something like this sorcery associated with this contract, I presume.
I worked for Mr. Sauvé for a long time before he got that contract. At that time, we didn't even talk about the possibility of getting a contract related to the government buildings. He had a lot of other contracts. After his bankruptcy, Mr. Sauvé started over from scratch. If I correctly read the article you have before you, his turnover had reached nearly $25 million.
You seem very well connected, sir. When they call you “a well-connected Conservative lobbyist”, I believe that's an accurate description of you, even though the Conservatives have tried to disown you in the House of Commons. They say, “He's no friend of ours”. Up until today they were denying you were ever even a member of the party. I think I heard the Prime Minister himself say that “we don't know this Varin character”. Now it seems like you spend a lot of time hobnobbing with very senior Conservatives on a regular basis.
Mr. Varin, I would like to go back to certain aspects that you mentioned a little earlier. First I would like to talk about your conviction for corruption. You said that conviction occurred around 1976, but that you have no criminal record. However, you say you don't really remember it.
Mr. Varin, I find it very hard to believe that because that conviction was related to the work of the Cliche Commission. The Cliche Commission, if I remember correctly, lasted a long time and got an enormous amount of publicity in Montreal and across Quebec. I don't know whether it did across Canada, but that was definitely the case across Quebec. I find it very hard to understand how, despite the media coverage at the time, you can't remember why you were convicted around 1976.
Pardon me, Mr. Varin, that's not the question I'm asking you. You told us that you did not remember why you were convicted in 1976. I'm saying that's quite odd because, in 1976, there was an enormous amount of media coverage. To be convicted and not to remember why is surprising. It seems to me that, emotionally at least, that's something very important. That's my question.
Mr. Varin you tell us you are very familiar with the way the machinery of government works and you tell us you played the intermediary for Mr. Sauvé. I have in my hand a press file from the Journal Québec Presse. It dates back to January 2009 and it was sent to me by the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec. It's entitled “Press file Gilles Varin, business lobbyist”. And yet you said a few minutes ago that you are not a lobbyist.
When I started working for Mr. Sauvé, his business wasn't under the control of the Hells Angels; I'm convinced of that. Had it previously been under the Hells Angels' control? I know nothing about that.
We won't do any advertising for a restaurant in Montreal, but are we to understand that you regularly have your base at a certain restaurant and that that is where you meet with your people for business lunches?
Yes, I advised Mr. Sauvé on other contracts. I advised him on a contract with the City of Montreal, as to how to register and bid on that contract. I also advised him in other matters, in contracts that he did not win.
Mr. Varin, we're getting to the end of our time, but we want to make it absolutely clear that you in fact were not engaged in lobbying. Obviously there were reports in the media that you were engaged in lobbying.
We have heard in this committee testimony from Mr. Tom Ring, who's an official with Public Works. He has testified, and when asked about you specifically, based on the media reports that had come out linking you somehow to this contract we're discussing as a committee today and that we've had a number of hearings regarding, he said:
...no: we've interviewed all of the people in the contracting and parliamentary precinct branches, and no one has ever heard of this individual and no one has ever been lobbied or influenced in any way.
At a different time in the same hearing, he said:
There has not been any indication that anyone tried to influence the pre-qualification criteria or the process itself.
So I bring that forward simply to, number one, counter Mr. Martin's accusations that there has been some funny business. The opposition contends that there is some type of funny business.
Mr. Varin, I need to be absolutely sure: you were not a lobbyist and you weren't paid to lobby or influence this government contract. Can you state that on the record? And remember that you're under oath.
I'm telling you categorically, I'm a strategic consultant in communications and business development, and that's what I did in these files.
Now, I would just like to make a minor correction. I also read what the journalists wrote. I obviously apologize to the journalists who all, or virtually all, contacted me. I didn't return those calls out of respect for the committee. I wanted to testify before the committee first.
However, contrary to what has been done, I won't make any comments to journalists after this meeting either.
Well, you're a master of communications, so in an event where there is some misinformation that has been reported, what have you done to try to correct the misinformation that's out there? Have you considered legal action? Because in fact what has been alleged in some media reports is that you've engaged in an illegal activity, so I'm curious as to if you've considered legal action to correct that. The accusation is that you've engaged in illegal activity.
I have assembled the entire press file from the very start. At that point, my lawyers will see whether there are grounds to institute proceedings and the ones we will institute, if we institute any. However, I haven't made a decision at this time.
On another point, again on a point that has been in some contrast to what has been reported, we have sought to verify if you've been a member of the Conservative Party, as it has been reported. We have had extensive, extensive research done that has gone back to even before the creation of the Conservative Party, to the Progressive Conservative Party, to at least 2003. We can confirm that our records indicate that you have never been a member--since at least 2003--of the Conservative Party. Does that sound correct?
Well, I appreciate that, because it has been reported differently, and I think our committee launched into many of these hearings based on media articles that came out: different news reports, either on television or in the newspapers, that have reported these different inconsistencies, at least, or untruths, I guess, as you've described them.
So I guess it's important for our committee to determine where we're going to head from here, but clearly we're on a fishing expedition in a place where there are no fish.
I think it's important that we give you an opportunity simply to clarify one last thing and that is with regard to your convictions in the 1970s. I understand that you've indicated that you don't remember what they were. I think if it were anybody around this table, we'd probably remember the circumstances that were related to them. I'm not sure they have any bearing on this hearing, but I think it's—
Mr. Varin, the Montreal Gazette says that in 1983 you were not a registered lobbyist, but you approached several cabinet ministers to help secure a bailout for the charter airline Nationair, and that the reason you weren't prosecuted was that the Mounties took action too late, that it had passed the statute of limitations, I guess.
With regard to the Nationair file—I vaguely remember that—that was about a strike during which Mr. Obadia consulted me at the outset on labour relations. I also remember speaking to I don't know whom, but to someone at Mr. Corbeil's office at the time so that he could meet Mr. Obadia and attempt to resolve the dispute because that company was headed toward bankruptcy, and that's ultimately what happened.
At the time, I never considered that as lobbying, on the one hand. On the other hand, I was never sworn, and I never received a notice from the lobbying commissioner or anybody chastising me or criticizing me in that respect.
I met him in order to try to do business with him before that, when he was in the real estate sector and I was vice-president... No, it was before that. At that time, I was director of development at the Permanent.
I think that there were a number of reasons, but whereas we're focused right now on the West Block, I have to say that if you understand a wider context of what was happening outside of the very specific nature of the project, there were a great deal of—through the fall, and then specifically in January of 2009—marches and newspaper articles about not supporting Israel in the papers. On January 10 there was a particularly unpleasant march in Montreal. It was attended by a very large quantity of organizations, some of them political. The march was characterized in the press as containing a lot of comments and denunciations, with such things as “Death to the Jews”.
There was an article in the editorial section of one of the newspapers saying that those of us who remain silent become complicit in that sort of thing. I decided at that time to support the Conservative Party through a donation, in large measure because the Conservative Party seemed through the press to be the only ones that were very firm in their support of Israel and in their statements that Israel had the right to protect itself against the Hamas rocket attacks. I wanted to show my support to them by doing that.
So that was about January 15 that the newspaper editorial came out, and on January 16 I decided that I would go to this fundraiser, that it would be an opportunity to give the money and support the Conservative Party. And so the next day, I wrote the cheque to the Conservative Party of Canada for the fundraiser amount--
I'm going to interrupt you because there's a very little time, but I understand your motives.
Are you telling me that the reason you went to the cocktail and bought the tickets for the cocktail were for reasons completely outside the fact that you were going to be very closely involved in the reconstruction of the building on the Hill?
I think, Madame Folco, that the question that I was going to be very much involved would be perhaps the crux of the perception. We have been working on the West Block project since the contract was first awarded in 1995. So whether or not in 2009 I then decided to give $500 from my personal account, it didn't strike me that there was a specific correlation between a relatively modest donation to a political party and the expectation, as you might be suggesting, of being about to work on a project. We were already working on that project, for quite a number of years.
Well, prior to going, Julia and I discussed whether we should go or shouldn't go. The reason Julia expressed was something I shared, but I also saw it as an opportunity to meet with the minister and impress upon him the importance of the project and that the project remains a priority within the government.
I understand that there were very few people at this cocktail. It wasn't a cocktail for 500 or 600 people; it was a very few selected people who attended this cocktail. According to you, and I'm just asking for a general number, how many people attended this cocktail?
I must say to you that we knew nobody there, so it wasn't that we could recognize faces or anything. It's not a large restaurant, this restaurant it was held in on Saint-Zotique Street in Montreal. It seemed like a small restaurant that was quite dark. We came in and sat together at a table at the back and just waited to hear the speeches.
The Chair: It has nothing to do with the rules of the House. It has nothing to do with the rules of the committee. It does not have anything to do with the usual procedures before this committee. It is rather to be interpreted as a point of interruption.
In response to Madame Folco asking how many people we saw there, I would say to you that Mr. Sauvé was there and we have met him before. Mr. Clavier was there. They were the only two people I absolutely recognized, who I knew. I knew no one else at that party.
I don't know that the member opposite is aware, but most of our planning sessions for this committee have been done in camera, and therefore, I don't believe there is any public information in regard to our planning for this committee.
The primary contract we have.... We are from two separate offices. I represent Le Groupe Arcop, and Julia is with Fournier, Gersovitz, Moss. We have one joint venture contract right now for the West Block.
In our office, we have two very minor contracts with National Defence Canada, not with Public Works.
In this case, the recommendation we did for this project was that we recommended that there be a process of pre-qualification for this work, as we felt it required contractors who had specialized experience. So we recommended that there be a process of pre-qualification, which Public Works accepted, in this case for the north towers project. Public Works was responsible for the process of pre-qualification and pre-qualifying contractors. It was not our role to do that.
May I answer that question in saying the following? The first pilot project done on the West Block, because the building is large and there are many lessons are to be learned from the masonry conservation, was the southeast tower restoration, which I believe you heard last week has just won a prize for the quality of the restoration work. That was the first project done on this building, and we proceeded with a pre-qualification for that first and foremost.
When you are working with historic masonry that is load-bearing, like the West Block and like any of the buildings on Parliament Hill, it is common practice--and RPCD recognizes this--that you need masons who have expertise in masonry restoration as opposed to just masonry. Therefore, there was a pre-qualification for the southeast tower process, which was successfully done. They followed a similar—
Thanks to both of you for showing up this morning. We appreciate your testimony.
Quite frankly, I'll say to each of you that I am honoured, and I think we are honoured as Canadians, to have you before us. If Canadians truly understood who we have before us today, they would recognize that we have two individuals here who have an international reputation as well as a reputation that precedes them in their work of rehabilitating buildings and their architectural expertise.
To have you working here on Parliament Hill is really something of a feat for the federal government. Thank you so much for your dedication and your work to preserve what is a national historic site and, really, a symbol of our democracy. You really are the right people for this job, and we appreciate your work.
I understand that you've been involved here on the Hill on the rehabilitation project since 1995. Is that correct?
Today it seems to me that we have members who have asked that you to come to our committee today and who were of the understanding that they might hear something in terms of political motivations and the rest. It's clear to me that you have undertaken your work in the most professional manner, so I think it's important that we, at this committee, have an opportunity to talk to you about the project you're undertaking.
We understand that you attended a political event, but that was for deeply personal reasons. We appreciate that. I think it's important for us, as a committee, to respect those reasons. Just because you work for the federal government in one capacity doesn't preclude you from being able to involve yourself in political activities.
I think it's important that we now talk about the project at hand. There's been some discussion about the cost of the rehabilitation of the West Block. I think there's been a lot of confusion, with different numbers going out about the rehabilitation of the West Block. A number in excess of $700 million has been reported as being allocated for the restoration.
The thing that I think Canadians don't understand, or that maybe the media has misrepresented, is that a good portion of that money is actually allocated for moving the people who are currently in West Block to other accommodations and for rehabilitating those other accommodations to have them well suited. Approximately $27 million, I believe, has been spent on the restoration and the rehabilitation of the projects being undertaken right now.
There is the south tower, which you were involved in. Is that right? It was the southeast tower.
Now, there were lessons learned from that, and I think it's important for us as committee members to fully understand the challenges that come into play when we're talking about historic masonry. Can you give us some of the lessons learned from that and tell us how they will assist us in the rehabilitation of the rest of the building?
On the issues with the southeast tower, one of the lessons learned was that we were able to do investigations. We were able to understand and to anticipate what we were going to find. In fact, that project came in under budget.
We were satisfied that we had learned lessons that were if you do exploratory openings and do testing.... The analogy is that you have a home where you don't know what you're going to find when you open up the walls. If you can do preliminary investigations, then the lessons learned in that will inform the tender documents and will help to inform the contractors in their work, and the project will go more smoothly than it might if you did not do that preliminary investigation.
Now, in talking to some of the people who have been working on the West Block rehabilitation, as well as on other projects on Parliament Hill, it seems to me that there are significant costs in doing the job wrong. This has been identified in some of the masonry work that has been done over the years to try to patch and different things, which actually exacerbates the problems.
Ms. Julia Gersovitz: Oh, yes.
Mr. Chris Warkentin: So your work is instrumental if we're going to preserve this. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Well, all I can say is that you're quite right that since it was determined in the 1960s to keep the building, there has been a lot of work done that has sometimes not been state of the art, because the state of the art was not as advanced as it is today.
One example of that would be using mortar that is too hard for the building stone that surrounds it and therefore causes breakage and spalling of the stone itself. So some of the costs for the southeast tower were for removing Portland cement mortar and replacing it with a mortar that is softer and more compatible with the stone.
So you're right, but that's part of the evolution, I suppose, of science. I think none of the intentions before were malicious.
Mr. Chris Warkentin: Absolutely.
Ms. Julia Gersovitz: They were just not as scientifically based as they are today.
Can you talk about the number of other projects in the entire country that would reflect the complexities of this one in terms of the metal work, the masonry, and all the different things that make this unique? Can you give our committee some scope to fully understand this?
I think that's a difficult question. It's difficult to find another example. Here we're dealing with a building built in the 1860s, bearing masonry that's undergone a number of renovations. It has a lot of asbestos in it. With the present policy, we're trying to bring it up to seismic regulations, seismic requirements.
The combination of all of this, together with the requirements for a parliamentary building, means it's very complex. The masonry is in extremely poor condition. We can't just put up standard scaffolding. For the north towers we've had to put up major structures in order to hold them up while we do the work.
We felt that many years ago. When we did our first building assessment back in 1995, we found certain problems. When we came back in 2003-04, we were quite surprised at the amount of deterioration that had happened since that time. The project was stopped in 1999 for a period of time, and we felt that during that time the deterioration was tremendous. And it's continuing. That's why we have the scaffolding, etc., around the building right now.
I think any of you who have been walking on the Hill of course would also note the security measures to prevent stones from falling, whether it's the wrapping of parts of the towers or the security fence around the perimeter to prevent people from being too close to the building.
Well, obviously we're most interested in the current undertaking of the restoration of the Parliament buildings.
Is there any aspect of your work associated with this building that gives you any unease, or has there been any indication that your ability to continue working may be threatened, or has your personal safety in any way ever been threatened, associated with the parliamentary Hill?
This is a project we're very proud to be part of. We've been working on it for 15 years. I think we've developed a love of the building, and I don't think there's anything that's threatened us in terms of the building or continuing to work on the building.
Perhaps I can ask you some questions about the process of the letters of interest that get sent out. I realize it's Public Works that obviously does the tendering and the hiring, etc., but I ask you this given your knowledge and background of the building industry.
The pre-qualification process that you recommended and that was conducted by Public Works was amended at a late date. Some of us feel that the amendments may have been the opportunity or the mechanism, if there was any political interference, that may have given an advantage to one contractor over another.
The one amendment specifically that I'd like to ask you about is amendment three. I don't expect you to know those by heart, but it's the one that deletes whole sections of the pre-qualification document--sections 3.5 to 3.10, effectively--and adds a sentence. It begins as follows:
If a contractor decides to pre-qualify both as a General Contractor and Subcontractor, they are permitted to list the same projects to pre-qualify both as a General Contractor and Subcontractor providing the projects meet the mandatory requirements.
Then this sentence was added:
In doing so, he doesn’t need to pre-qualify a second subtrade for which he has specialization in, waiving the corresponding requirement defined below in sections 5 to 10 of this section.
But would you consider that a substantive amendment? As an example, the other two amendments were about things like changing one paragraph because it's more correct, in a French-English translation issue, while another one was cancelling the pre-job site visit for the pre-qualification. They're relatively minor.
This one actually deletes about 50% of the whole invitation to tender, in that you do not have to have a decorative ironwork restoration subcontractor list and you don't have to have an element carver subcontractor. I would say that the general contractors who would have had to pre-qualify their subcontractors would be at a disadvantage, and the one contractor who had all those subcontractors in-house would have an advantage.
That change was made in the final days leading up to the closing. Do you have any professional insights?
We were not part of that process. We were not asked, and to be honest, I'm not aware of everything that was deleted at that time. I know now that there was a change and I knew after the pre-qualification was done that there was a change, but I don't know the details of the change, so I can't really comment.
I do understand that. I come from a building background as well and I know that as the architect it wouldn't be that you're involved with it. The timing of it was suspect to us, in that they extended the closing by one week, and then on the original closing date they moved what we consider to be this massive amendment that really changed the game dramatically.
On the other bidders, you probably worked with PCL, as I have, and EllisDon, as I have, and Fuller Construction, arguably the best contractors in North America. I don't know who the fourth was. Do you remember? There were five people pre-qualified.
Yes, and it attracted arguably the best contractors in the world, with international reputations. The guy who we argue bought his way onto this pre-qualification list low-bidded it by $2 million on a $9-million project. If I were the project manager, I would take a low bid like that and throw it in the garbage. I would probably take the highest and the lowest and chuck them and pick one in the middle range that had a reasonable expectation of being able to complete the job. Nobody can leave $2 million on the table on a $9-million project.
He feels that he's being pushed off the job, squeezed off the job. The trustee in the bankruptcy that's managing the money is not forwarding money so he can pay wages to his people. He's being forced into bankruptcy because he can't meet his payments.
I'll begin by echoing my colleague Mr. Warkentin's comments in thanking you for your work on the West Block. It's a building we all treasure. I know that it will be a long time, but we look forward to its completion.
Given the masonry specialization required--and you've described that--why was LM Sauvé uniquely qualified for this job? Or was that company?
You talked about the specialization required in terms of the type of masonry work being done on the West Block, on the towers, for instance. In view of that, was Mr. Sauvé's company uniquely qualified to do this work?
Looking back, it seems to me there were two speeches of welcome. In one, Mr. Paradis was focusing on the woman who was running in that riding, who was going to be the candidate. He was speaking words of encouragement and welcome to her. That's how I would put it.
As I say, it seemed to be as a senior member of the Conservative Party, to wave the flag for somebody who was running or who wanted to run in the riding. That was my remembrance of it. It was focused on this woman's accomplishments.
When Mr. Martin asked the question about threats and Mr. Glouberman answered, I did get the distinct impression that your answer...your body language was not quite what I had expected. Do you want to say anything about that?
Of course, I'm going to share my time with my colleague.
Madam, sir, I specifically want to understand the situation. You had a specific job to do, which was to restore the government buildings. Based on your professional knowledge, your expertise, you were to find a contractor who had specific knowledge to do that job. It appears there were four, five or six bidders. If I understood correctly, only one of them could do the specific job you were requesting. Is that correct?
I think that would be incorrect, Madame Bourgeois. It is not that one contractor can do the work; it is that there is a list of qualified contractors, a list of pre-qualified contractors, of which one will do the work because his price will be the lowest conforming bid.
It's not that there is only one person who is capable. Anyone who is on the list is capable, has been judged capable by Public Works and RPCD. There is going to be only one person who will do that work, and according to the public tender process, it will be the lowest conforming bid.
You are professionals, and you have a very large number of years of experience in this field to your credit. I imagine you are somewhat aware of the amounts involved or of the total cost of the work to be done.
Were you surprised to see that LM Sauvé had won the contract by submitting a bid approximately $2 million less than those of the other bidders? Did that surprise you?
We were asked, after the bids were analyzed by Public Works and deemed to be conforming to the legal requirements, to review the bid in terms of the cost, etc. At that point, we prepared a list of our concerns on that bid in terms of....we felt in certain cases that he was over or under our estimates. This was sent on to Public Works for their review.
Following that, there was a meeting with Paul Sauvé to go over these concerns. The reason for going over them was to make sure that he understood the extent of the work and the scope of the work. At that meeting, he said, if my memory.... I wasn't at the meeting, but I did read the minutes of the meeting. He said that the documents prepared by our firms, by our total team, were very clear, very concise, and he clearly understood the scope of the work, and he stood by his prices in each area.
From time to time I certainly appreciate the chair's balance and fairness both in his judgments and in his comments. I'm afraid today is not one of those times....
I'd like to thank our guests today for attending and giving their frank and thoughtful testimony. My Cape Breton mom used to say, “After it's all said and done, there's a lot more said than done”. I sense that some of the dialogue around the table has reflected that today.
I want to touch briefly--for the last time, to get this finally off the table--on the issue of this infamous cocktail party.
Madam Gersovitz, you've said that you attended one time ever, and that was this one cocktail party.
Mr. Glouberman, you indicated that you attended this one, but you've attended several before. I thought I heard you say they weren't necessarily for Conservative functions. Do you recall what they might have been for in the past?
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, that's not an appropriate question. We don't grill people as to their political affiliations at this committee.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Pat Martin: It's a person's own business what political party they choose to donate to and support. It's too late now, but if there are any apologies in order today, I think Ed Holder should apologize to this witness for demanding to know what political party he's donating to.
I'd like to get to the point that is perhaps the key point here, which is the issue of the renovations. Certainly we've all heard from media that the renovations are quite extensive and come at a very high price. I'd like to get your professional opinion, and if I might say, because of this high cost to renovate.... You've been involved in this building since 1995. I would think you know this building intimately.
I think this committee would appreciate a sense of what you think the renovation requirements are. How extensive is this? Is it worth the price we're paying?
I definitely think it's worth the price that we have to pay for this. This building has deteriorated tremendously over a period of time. Also, it's a building that was initially built as a departmental building, and it's being updated to meet present requirements for parliamentarians, which are quite different. So there's modern technology and there's a lot of infrastructure that has to be included in this building now.
But basically most of the money is going into restoring the existing building. The masonry is in terrible shape. There's a tremendous amount of asbestos all over the building. That's very costly and very difficult to remove. It's all the way within the walls, so it's a very, very costly building to repair, and in addition, we are adding more space by creating space in the courtyard and closing that in.
Finally, if I might, I want to clarify one of the questions that was asked by a member opposite. They wondered why you are here today. I think having you here today as world-class architects, and the work you're doing on our precinct... Frankly, this is a national treasure. I think it speaks to the calibre of your work, but also to the needs that are required for the building.
You may not know this, but we actually had Minister Paradis scheduled for today. But there were some members opposite who thought it was more critical to have you here. But I would say that you've added some dimension to our discussions, and I'd like to thank you both for attending.
I just have one question, Mr. Chair. When I was asking for some information on the scope of the renovation, you stated that between 1995 and the early 2000s, I believe, you were no longer involved or the work had stopped during that time. Was any work that you're aware of undertaken on the preservation of the facade or anything else during that period of time?
I know that during the time.... The project was stopped in 1998-99. We were called back in 2003 to do an analysis. In that interim time, Public Works was checking the building, scaling the building, and doing annual checks to monitor the deterioration.
Mr. Chair, I do have some concerns with regard to this motion. I don't know if Geoff Regan is aware, but his colleague Navdeep Bains has brought forward a very, very similar motion, almost identical in its components, in the public accounts committee, I believe, so the information is being compiled for that. I understand from our folks that five days is an impossible timeframe for the scope of information that's being requested.
So there are those two points: number one, we have a motion that's already being brought forward in the public accounts committee; and second, there is actually a problem in terms of being able to fulfill the request within the timeframe specified.
Mr. Chairman, on the fact that they are already compiling it, that part of it should make it easy to provide this committee with what they're already providing for another committee. Surely they can attempt.... Let's have them fulfill such part as they can, for starters. But I think it is reasonable to proceed with the motion.
Mr. Chairman, in terms of it, I don't know how much work this committee wants to replicate if in fact another committee is already doing that. I don't know if there is time that we want to give Mr. Regan to consider and consult with his own colleagues as to whether or not they intend to replicate the same work. It's important, I think, that committee members know that this is being asked for in the public accounts committee, and we would simply be replicating the efforts they're undertaking there.
Mr. Chair, Mr. Warkentin is assuming that this committee will ask the same questions, for example, as would be asked at the other committee or pursue the same topics. Just because we have the same information, that isn't necessarily the case--