As a public inquiry into corruption delivers alarming evidence that kickbacks and bribes have inflated the price tag on Quebec’s roads, bridges and other public works, the new Parti Québécois government has revealed costs are still skyrocketing for the province’s biggest infrastructure projects.
Quebec’s 20 biggest construction projects saw costs inflate by an average of 80 per cent from the time they were initially budgeted to now, according to Treasury Board president Stéphane Bédard.
Mr. Bédard was cautious when asked if collusion and corruption may be playing a role in the runaway inflation. “It’s hard to establish,” he said. “In some of those projects, there are a lot of questions to be asked. But in the majority of those projects, it just looks as though there was bad planning.”
News of the dramatic cost inflation caps off a stunning week in Quebec, where testimony by a former construction boss of rampant bid fixing and bribes combined with police raids to shake confidence in the government of two of the province’s three biggest cities.
On Friday, Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt flatly rejected suggestions he resign, hours after the province’s anti-corruption squad had completed searches of his home and Laval City Hall.
“I must confess what I’m facing has come as a total shock. It was totally unexpected. And I can affirm to you that this is not a very pleasing situation,” said Mr. Vaillancourt, who said he was addressing the public out of a sense of “transparency” and “duty.”
“What we’re seeing here is a wave of rumour and innuendo. … I will offer police my complete co-operation, but I won’t comment on the objectives of their investigation or rumour.”
The focus to start the week was on Montreal, where former construction boss Lino Zambito said a well-oiled system directed percentages of every contract to high-level city staffers, the mob, and the political party of Mayor Gérald Tremblay.
Mr. Tremblay also rejected calls he resign.
Mr. Bédard said projects in Montreal, such as the multibillion-dollar reconstruction of a major provincial overpass, are of particular concern for cost overrun.
“Every construction site is different, but it’s clear the system of collusion in Montreal is very well developed,” Mr. Bédard said. “The situation is worrisome.”
Projects outside the city are also causing concern. A new 243-kilometre road to cross the northern Otish Mountains to reach the Renard mining project of Stornoway Diamond Corp., initially budgeted at $260-million, is now pegged at more than $470-million.
Mr. Bédard has asked the agency that oversees the province’s infrastructure projects to hire an external auditor to review the projects along with government evaluation and procurement. “We want to find a way to control these costs,” Mr. Bédard said after an update on the province’s finances.
Questions of process have long been at the heart of concerns in Laval, where opposition leaders have papered the province with letters complaining about fishy deals and lack of transparency.
“It’s been seven years we’ve complained about the way contracts have been handed out,” said Robert Bordeleau, one of the unelected critics.
Mr. Bordeleau recently complained about a piece of land valued at $1.2-million that the city bought from “the extended family of a council member” for $5.6-million. Investigators are “going to find all kinds delicious nuggets,” he said.
Quebec’s inquiry has heard that many of the province’s regions and cities have been closed markets where a handful of construction bosses divvy up work at inflated prices while kicking back cash to political organizers, local officials and, often, the mob.
Montreal and Laval were cited as the two most egregious examples. So far, the Charbonneau inquiry has mainly concentrated on Montreal.
The inquiry is taking next week off and resumes Oct. 15.