The Quebec government has unveiled an ambitious 10-year, $92.3-billion infrastructure plan in which projects will be awarded under a new set of rules to ensure “transparency and integrity.”
“We are putting honesty back into infrastructure projects,” Treasury Board President Stéphane Bédard said.
The announcement was part of the Parti Québécois government’s efforts to eliminate favouritism and collusion in the awarding of government construction projects.
With allegations of influence peddling, collusion, bribes and widespread corruption in the construction industry corroborated by testimony at the Charbonneau commission, the PQ passed legislation last fall that requires companies to bear the seal of integrity before bidding on the billions of dollars in government contracts awarded each year.
Now the government will table a new bill that will require all infrastructure projects to be placed under three categories: those under study, those in the planning stage and projects under construction. A minister will no longer have the authority to add new projects to the list or cancel others without having received cabinet approval and informing the National Assembly.
The bill will ensure National Assembly oversight by requiring the government to table each year a complete list of all the projects being studied, planned or under construction. However, Crown corporations such as Hydro-Québec are not included.
“This new way of managing our public infrastructures is part of the resolve by the Parti Québécois government and citizens of Quebec to pursue the merciless fight against collusion and corruption,” Mr. Bédard said.
The minister was also open to a proposal by the Coalition Avenir Québec party that the cost of the projects be reviewed by the provincial auditor. He said this would be one way of avoiding the kind disparity witnessed during the last election campaign when the former Liberal government announced projects that according to a study would cost $1.6-billion more than projected.
Greater transparency means less pork barrelling or partisan politics in deciding which projects should go forward, Mr. Bédard argued. “Transparency is the best way to ensure that the needs of the people are considered above political calculations similar to what we witnessed in recent years,” the minister said in attacking the way former Liberal premier Jean Charest awarded government contracts.
But the CAQ insisted that if the PQ truly wanted to be transparent it would have kept its promise in making the list of projects available to the public rather than have the ministers announce them over the coming months. The CAQ accused the PQ of using the same tactics as the Liberals by using the infrastructure program for purely electoral gains.
“We were told there would be a detailed list of projects and today we’re getting nothing. We’re just getting a sense of what will be spent in the next few years but with no details that we can look at,” said CAQ finance critic Christian Dubé. “That list is available … and the government had kept it for political reasons.”
Over the next 10 years the government plans to spend an average of $9.2-billion a year to maintain or create as many as 60,000 infrastructure jobs a year. The projects will be funded through government borrowing. Mr. Bédard insisted that tight budgeting will allow him to remain on target in lowering the debt ratio to the province’s gross domestic product below 50 per cent by 2018.
Most of the spending will be on roads, hospitals, schools, universities and municipal projects. A reserve has been set aside for special projects, such as the building of the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal, a federally owned structure. Quebec expects to cover part of the bill for the new bridge but insists that Ottawa cover most of the costs.