The head of Quebec’s anti-collusion squad says an interim, closed-door inquiry would be an ideal way to address mounting public concern over alleged corruption and Mafia infiltration in the construction industry.
“I am still in favour of a [public]commission of inquiry,” Jacques Duchesneau said.
But moving quickly to set up an inquiry behind closed doors might be the way to go, he said.
“Do we need to head in the direction of a public inquiry right away? No. I believe there is a middle way between the two – a commission of inquiry that could be headed by three judges who would hear behind closed doors what people have to say.”
Mr. Duchesneau made the comments on the popular Radio-Canada television talk show Tout le monde en parle, which aired Sunday night. The show was taped last Thursday.
Outraged Quebeckers – including hundreds at a demonstration in Montreal on Saturday – have been demanding that Quebec Premier Jean Charest hold an independent public inquiry as soon as possible.
But Mr. Charest has adamantly refused, saying the controversy is best handled by police investigations that will produce specific results and put criminals behind bars.
Mr. Duchesneau, the former head of the Montreal police force, was appointed by the Charest government to head up the special anti-collusion team in February of 2010.
He is scheduled to appear in the provincial legislature Tuesday to explain the explosive details in his report outlining a “clandestine universe” in public-works projects of deliberate cost overruns, kickbacks and even illegal funding of political parties.
Parts of his report were leaked to some media outlets earlier this month, ratcheting up the pressure on the Liberal government as details emerged of construction companies, engineering firms, criminal gangs and crooked civil servants all in cahoots to drive up the price of projects.
On the show broadcast Sunday, he called it a “system within a system” in which woefully understaffed Ministry of Transport employees lack the resources and the expertise to ensure there are no abuses in work being bid on by private-sector contractors.
He added that he’s confident the problems can be cleaned up and a new system put in place.
Among the schemes outlined in the report is the deliberate fabrication of cost overruns that were rubber-stamped with little or no protest from Transport Ministry officials, according to media reports.
Last year alone, according to the report, final payments on public-works projects exceeded original contract amounts by $347-million.
On Saturday, organizers of a demonstration outside the downtown Montreal office of the Premier said between 2,000 and 3,000 people showed up to demand a public inquiry.
Some called on Mr. Charest to step down.
Bernard Drainville, a Parti Québécois MNA who attended the demonstration, said he rejects Mr. Duchesneau’s call for a closed-door inquiry.
“No, no, no. A public inquiry is required,” he said. “We want to hear the questions, we want to hear the answers, we want to know who is testifying. A secret inquiry is out of the question. We’ve had enough [information]that has been withheld.”
The provincial government has already stated it will review 74 public-works contracts as a result of Mr. Duchesneau’s report, which is in the hands of Transport Minister Pierre Moreau.
Mr. Duchesneau met privately with Mr. Moreau on Friday.
“The report describes the situation, which is worse than what I thought,” Mr. Duchesneau said at a news conference afterward.
“But there are things that need to be done. And … the meeting we had was quite clear on this. Measures are going to be taken on a short-term basis.”
With a report from The Canadian Press