Cash doled out to workers to make “personal” donations to political parties; blacklisting of companies that don’t pay the right kickbacks. According to a new report by the respected former Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau that was leaked last week, these relics of a bygone era are common practices in Quebec’s construction industry. Before any more damage is done, Premier Jean Charest should take decisive action to restore confidence in the province’s institutions.
The province contracts for 700 new road projects worth about $4-billion a year. The corruption endemic in the industry is driving up costs for the public; last year, final payments exceeded original contracts amounts by $347-million, according to the report. Criminal gang activity, in the past focused on drugs, is now moving in on a trade that is just as lucrative, but far more legitimate, with the report saying, “Construction is the principal method for money laundering by the Mafia.”
It may be endangering them, too. Criminal gangs breed violence. And control of transport infrastructure by such gangs casts doubt on the safety of that infrastructure.
The Quebec Liberals, the only clearly federalist party in the province, also have cause to worry. Quebeckers have shown that they will punish parties associated with corruption. Mr. Charest, Canada’s longest-serving Premier, is losing his window of opportunity to capitalize on disorganization in the sovereigntist ranks and consolidate his position.
He will soon introduce a bill to limit the power of construction unions, which – perversely – have control over who gets hired on job sites. A welcome move, but the report demonstrates the rot is not due to union control alone. The transport ministry, repeatedly cited in the report as emasculated and unable to second-guess the contractors, needs re-building. The province can put more resources into charging those responsible for intimidation or contract-rigging; only thirteen prosecutions related to corruption in the industry are currently under way. And Mr. Charest needs to distance himself from corrupt people raising money on his party’s behalf.
Mr. Duchesneau speaks to a subcommittee of Quebec’s National Assembly next week. Legislators will want more names, dates and details from him. At the same time, they will need to ready their own arsenal of responses.