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Couillard pushed Quebec City project to Tories after firm lost Montreal bid

DANIEL LEBLANC AND INGRID PERITZ

 

With reports from Tu Thanh Ha in Toronto and Rhéal Seguin in Quebec City

 

June 13, 2008

 

OTTAWA AND MONTREAL -- The Kevlar Group was losing out on a major federal contract in Montreal in early 2007 at the same time as Julie Couillard started lobbying two senior Conservative officials in favour of another one of the company's projects in Quebec City, according to government records and sources.

 

Kevlar wanted to spend up to $25-million to develop a large swath of land that belonged to Canada Post on the Montreal harbourfront. However, another Crown corporation, Canada Lands, used its right of first refusal and snagged the 60,000-square-metre property in a deal that was officially announced on May 2, 2007, a spokesman for Canada Lands confirmed.

 

Kevlar was believed to be unhappy in Montreal when its postal-site bid was rejected, according to a real-estate consultant.

 

"They [Kevlar] probably invested a lot of time, money and energy in their building proposal, which they thought was the best," said a source familiar with the project. "Then Canada Lands turned around and said, 'We'll develop the site.' "

 

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Couillard pushed Quebec City project to Tories after firm lost Montreal bid

 

About the same time, Kevlar was bidding on another federal project worth about $30-million for a building in Quebec City to house 750 bureaucrats.

 

In the House yesterday, the Opposition expressed clear concerns that the company used Ms. Couillard to infiltrate the government in an attempt to ensure it would win that contract.

 

Ms. Couillard was finishing her training as a real-estate agent at the time, and had obtained an affiliation with the firm's real-estate branch.

 

In the spring of 2007, she started dating, in succession, two senior Conservative officials: Public Works adviser Bernard Côté and industry minister Maxime Bernier.

 

According to senior federal officials, Ms. Couillard directly discussed Kevlar's bid in Quebec City with Mr. Bernier and Mr. Côté.

 

Mr. Bernier has since resigned after classified documents were left in April at the home of Ms. Couillard, who had lived with two men with ties to the Hells Angels in the 1990s.

 

Mr. Côté resigned this week after telling his superiors about Ms. Couillard's lobbying efforts and acknowledging he should have recused himself from the file to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

 

As The Globe and Mail reported yesterday, Kevlar co-chair Philippe Morin introduced Ms. Couillard and Mr. Bernier to one another in April in a restaurant in Montreal.

 

A source added yesterday that Mr. Bernier and Mr. Morin might have known one another through their respective involvement in a group called the Young Presidents' Organization. Mr. Morin is the son of a well-known book publisher in Quebec.

 

Kevlar officials refused repeated requests for comment yesterday, and did not expand on their previous statement that their link to Ms. Couillard was simply related to her real-estate licence.

 

In the House of Commons, the Liberals accused Ms. Couillard of attempting to "infiltrate the Conservative government."

 

"She tried to influence real-estate contracts at Public Works," said Montreal Liberal MP Marlene Jennings.

 

According to news reports, Kevlar was founded by president René Bellerive in 1996, with Mr. Morin becoming a partner in 1999. The firm has acquired and built a number of commercial buildings and condominiums in Montreal and Quebec City, often with other financial partners.

 

Kevlar and its owners have also donated thousands of dollars to federalist and separatist parties, in Ottawa and Quebec City, with the first recorded pledge to the Conservative Party, for $1,000, coming in the months after the Tories were elected to office.

 

The government did not directly address the opposition's concerns in the House yesterday, except to say there has been no decision on the Quebec City project, on which Kevlar is one of about two dozen bidders.

 

Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan accused the opposition of wasting time by holding a parliamentary inquiry into the matter.

 

"It is about finding sordid stories that can make for good news for those who are into gossip and that sort of stuff, but it is not about the important questions of public policy," he said.

 

Regarding the Montreal project, Kevlar submitted an initial $25-million bid for the site in 2006. After several extensions to conduct due diligence, the firm submitted a lowered offer for the property on Feb. 28 of last year. Kevlar's deal fell through when Canada Lands matched its $18-million offer.

 

"The company that bid on the site put in an offer, and we matched it," said Gordon McIvor, vice-president of Canada Lands.

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