Two powerful union bosses planned to enlist the help of Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois and her financier husband to kill the idea of a public inquiry to examine corruption and mob infiltration in their movement.
Wiretaps from 2009 produced Tuesday at the Charbonneau inquiry captured Michel Arsenault, then the head of the Quebec Federation of Labour, and Jean Lavallée, the former president of the FTQ-Construction union, discussing how they would ask Ms. Marois and her husband, Claude Blanchet, to nip talk of an inquiry in the bud.
"I want us to get organized and talk to both of them to make sure there is no inquiry," Mr. Lavallée said in the wiretap.
If such a lobbying effort did take place, it seemed to have limited effect. In the years following the wiretap conversation, the PQ opposition under Ms. Marois assailed the Liberal government under Jean Charest for resisting calls for a public inquiry. The Liberals finally called an inquiry in the fall of 2011, about a year before the PQ came to power.
In testimony Tuesday, Mr. Lavallée denied the intervention with Ms. Marois ever happened, although Mr. Arsenault is captured on tape saying he already had made a deal with Mr. Blanchet. The latter once ran the union's multibillion-dollar investment fund and ran the Quebec government's investment arm from 1997 to 2003, while Ms. Marois was a high-profile cabinet minister.
"The PQ won't touch it," said Mr. Arsenault, who has not yet testified at the inquiry. "I'll talk to Pauline."
Ms. Marois, who is at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, declined to address the allegation with reporters travelling with her.
Bernard Drainville, the PQ minister for democratic institutions, pointed out that his party asked hundreds of questions on corruption in the National Assembly demanding an inquiry be held. "If people thought they would discourage us from asking for it, they obviously failed," Mr. Drainville told reporters in Quebec City.
However, opposition parties demanded answers. Sylvie Roy, a member of the Coalition Avenir Québec, was six months ahead of the PQ in demanding a full public inquiry. She wondered whether the PQ delayed calling for an inquiry until the fall of 2009 due to ties between the unions and the party, Ms. Marois or Mr. Blanchet. "If he uses his close ties with Ms. Marois to obtain financing [from the union's investment fund] then that is a problem," Ms. Roy said.
Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard also called on Ms. Marois to explain whether the union proposed a financial deal with Ms. Marois's husband in return for special treatment by the PQ. "I'm not assuming anything wrong was done, but what was said is very troubling. If there should have been any transactions in return for an investment in which the political process has been altered, this is a very serious allegation," Mr. Couillard said.
The PQ and Ms. Marois have long standing links to the unions. Mr. Lavallée described how his union of electricians provided security for Ms. Marois during election campaigns. He said his wife worked in her office for 10 years while he was also a party activist. Mr. Lavallée said he no longer has ties to the party.