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The Globe and Mail

Is scandal brewing in a Mulroney-era reunion?

Construction tarps cover the north tower of West Block on Parliament Hill on Oct. 4, 2010.

DAVE CHAN/dave chan The Globe and Mail.

Behind Le Devoir's firewall, one finds some interesting details about three additional Parliament Hill reno contracts granted in 2009. Additional, that is, to the $9 million contract accorded to Paul Sauve and an alleged payment of $140,000 to Gilles Varin - the story The Globe and Mail and Radio-Canada broke earlier this week.

Behind the paper's pay-wall, Helene Buzzetti reports, "Norman Glouberman, of the Arcop Group, contributed $500 to the Conservative constituency association of the Montreal riding of Bourassa on January 22, 2009…Julia Gersovitz, of Fournier Gersovitz, Moss and Associates, contributed $500 the same day….Finally, Joseph Broccolini, of Broccolini Construction, also contributed $500 on the same date." That same date would be the date of the famous fundraising cocktail party that Mr. Sauve organized and minister Christian Paradis attended - and where Mr. Paradis now acknowledges he congratulated Mr. Sauve on obtaining the lucrative contract.

Perhaps these contributions by three successful contractors on the same date - a date that coincides with a Conservative fund-raiser - are simply coincidental. However, it's also noteworthy, as Ms. Buzzetti points out, that the three individuals made no contributions to any other political party in these years.

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In fairness, in a scrum after the issue was raised by the Bloc during Question Period, Ms. Buzzetti challenged the Party's House Leader, Pierre Paquette, to furnish any evidence that Conservative MPs played any role whatsoever in granting these contracts - the standard of proof for the existence of corruption that The Globe and Mail set out in an editorial this week ("a correlation between a donation and a contract does not imply causation.") Mr. Paquette replied:

"I'd reverse the question on you. What evidence is there that a system is not in place, in light of the fact that you have four representatives of construction firms that received substantial contracts from the federal government. It's not by accident! We contend that a system is in place that could be growing and it's time to shed some light on these things."

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper has kept himself well away from answering questions on this affair, Conservative spokespersons have gone to great lengths to distance the government from Mr. Varin. Here, for example, are the talking points Conservative MPs received on Wednesday, under the heading "Correcting the record on Gilles Varin" - the man alleged to have received the $140,000 from Mr. Sauve:

"Media reports are wrongly stating that Gilles Varin is a long-time organiser, member and donor of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Here are the facts:

This individual is not a member of the Conservative Party of Canada. In fact, we have no records of him ever being a member of our party.

This individual is not and has not been an organizer of the Conservative Party of Canada.

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This individual has been an occasional donor to both the Conservative Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada."

Conservative Ministers have had great fun this week pointing out that the Liberal who received the donation from Mr. Varin was none other than Denis Coderre, who, in his typical full throat delivery - had been leading the charge against Mr. Paradis in Question Period. It's not clear that they'll have as much fun next week, if allegations buried in a CP report filed last night prove out:

"Sauve said Varin served as chief of staff to Marcel Masse, a cabinet minister in Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government.

And he said Mr. Varin was so well connected to the Conservatives that he knew Mr. Paradis was going to replace Michael Fortier as public works minister weeks before it happened in June 2008. That was around the time the department awarded LM Sauve the renovation contract.

Elections Canada records show that Sauve donated $1,100 on Jan. 26, 2009, to the Conservative riding association in Bourassa, and gave $1,000 to Tory candidate Hubert Pichet in La Pointe-de-l'Ile."

That would be the same Hubert Pichet who served for a time as Mr. Mulroney's executive assistant. Who was one of the organizers of the event in Montreal to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Mr. Mulroney's 1984 election sweep - an event where Stephen Harper and his ministers began to make up with Mr. Mulroney after the 2007 ban on any dealings with him while the Oliphant commission was looking into the former prime minister's dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber. And who, while working for Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin (appointed to the senate by Mr. Mulroney and pictured here with Mr. Varin) had an "impromptu" meeting with the same Mr. Varin at Le Mas des Oliviers (a fine restaurant well-frequented for many years by Conservatives), during which the matter of the contract of interest to Mr. Sauve was discussed.

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Update In Sunday's Halifax Chronicle-Herald, Ottawa bureau chief Steven Maher reminds us of another interesting Mulroney-era connection in this affair:

"Sauve [allegedly]paid Tory-connected lobbyist Gilles Varin $140,000 for help landing his contract for work on the West Block. Varin sought the help of Hubert Pichet, who worked for Tory Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin. Nolin was once chief of staff to one of Brian Mulroney's public works ministers, Roch LaSalle, the MP for Joliette. LaSalle resigned in 1987 after he was charged with accepting a bribe and influence peddling. LaSalle was linked to organized crime figures in Quebec and presided over a system where companies seeking government contracts were encouraged to donate to the Conservative Party."

And, to complete the circle, on the front page of "L'Action" - a publication out of Joliette - we see a photo of Gilles Varin and, in the accompanying article, read that he was "a long-time friend of Conservative MP, and later minister, Roch Lasalle."

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