The Charbonneau Commission is examining allegations of collusions in the 1990’s involving engineering companies which held auctions to determined which firms would obtain Parti Québécois government contracts and then funnelled the proceeds from the auction into the PQ coffers, according to an investigation report obtained by La Presse.
The report reveals that engineering firms divvied up Quebec into territories. Each year the firms would meet to auction off the territories to the highest bidder and send the proceeds evaluated between $40,000 and $50,000 into the PQ coffers. In return, the highest bidding firm would be assured of facing little competition in obtaining engineering contracts for the various projects on that territory. According to the newspaper, an unidentified former PQ elected member directly intervened in the tendering process. It also notes that none of the names of current PQ candidates appear in the report.
PQ leader Pauline Marois, who was a member of the government at the time says she knew nothing about any illegal funding practices. “I have no idea what this is about. I never heard of this before,” Ms. Marois during a news conference while campaigning in Montreal. “I don’t know anything about it.”
Coalition Avenir Quebec leader François Legault, a former PQ minister in the 1990’s who quit the party in 2009 found the revelations “troubling” and “alarming” adding that the Charbonneau Commission should have held public hearings a long time ago on the financing of political parties.
“I find it really too bad that they haven’t heard any testimony from former Transport ministers,” Mr. Legault said. “ I find it quite alarming that during the PQ years in power the contracts were awarded by territory and that money from the auctions went into PQ coffers…I would certainly like to hear the testimony of former PQ Transport ministers.”
The report being examine by the Charbonneau Commission was part of an investigation conducted by the Ministry of Transportation’s former anti-collusion unit which was set up in 2010 to probe the awarding of government road and maintenance contracts after a series of scandals rocked former premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government.
The unit was headed by Jacques Duchesneau, the outspoken anti-corruption crusader and former Montreal chief of police. The unit was later merged with the permanent anti-corruption unit or UPAC but not before Mr. Duchesneau leaked a damaging report that pointed to collusion in the awarding of government contracts, potential mafia infiltration and widespread corruption. Mr. Duchesneau was elected to the National Assembly in 2012 for the Coalition Avenir Québec party but chose not to run in the current election campaign.
The Duchesneau report sparked an uproar at the time and forced Mr. Charest into creating the Charbonneau Commission in 2011 to examine corruption in the construction industry and illegal party financing. According to La Presse, the Commission was closely examining a second report prepared at the time by Mr. Duchesneau but never made public which describes the scheme involving the collusion of engineering firms and the funneling of illegal funds to the PQ during the years the party was in power in the 1990’s.
So far the Charbonneau Commission has exposed collusion, kickbacks and influence peddling in the awarding of municipal contracts in Montreal and Laval. Testimony showed mafia infiltration in the tendering process at the City of Montreal and kickback schemes which allegedly benefitted the former mayor of Laval Gilles Vaillancourt who faces a series of charges including gangsterism. Testimony also showed how construction companies and engineering firms created cartels and decided beforehand which ones would receive municipal government contracts while channelling kickbacks into the coffers of municipal political parties and into the pockets of corrupt civil servants and politicians.
The Charbonneau Commission suspended public hearings until after the April 7 provincial election arguing that it didn’t want to disrupt the campaign. When it resumes the Commission will begin examining the awarding of provincial government contracts and the funding of provincial political parties.