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Quebec's Minister of Finance Nicolas Marceau. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)
Quebec's Minister of Finance Nicolas Marceau. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)

EU trade deal could help clean up Quebec corruption, PQ finance minister says Add to ...

Quebec’s finance minister believes a trade agreement signed with Europe will have a cleansing side effect in Quebec, where more competition may help drive corruption out of the province’s construction industry.

On Friday, Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau applauded the agreement signed between Canada and the European Union, saying new open markets will create opportunities for Quebec manufacturers, agricultural producers and other businesses.

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Mr. Marceau also said he believes competition for public construction projects will help limit the rampant bid-rigging that underpinned a vast system of bribes and collusion that dominated the Quebec construction industry for years.

Testimony at the Charbonneau commission, along with the arrests of dozens of construction executives, local politicians and civil servants, have shown a vast system diverted millions in public funds to the pockets of corrupt officials, construction bosses and the mob.

“I think (more open markets) can only help. There are several manners in which corruption can be fought, by the law, by having rules better enforced, but I think competition is another manner to fight corruption,” Mr. Marceau said.

Mr. Marceau said he does not fear European companies could take advantage of turmoil among many of the province’s major firms to take over the construction business in Quebec.

“This will happen relatively gradually, the agreement will only be agreed upon over the next year or so,” he said. “And it’s only for government procurement. It’s a large share, but it’s not the whole industry.”

Mr. Marceau also applauded the agreement more broadly Friday, saying the province, which has long supported free trade, could once again see Montreal’s role as a gateway to North America boosted by European trade.

The trade deal found Mr. Marceau’s PQ separatist government in the unusual position of being aligned with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jean Charest, the former Liberal premier who was a driving force behind the trade talks.

“I think we are in the same position we were in the 1980s and early 1990s” when PQ governments worked with Conservatives in Ottawa to negotiate free trade with the United States and, later, Mexico, Mr. Marceau said.

“Quebec has always been in favour of free trade. NAFTA would not have taken place without Quebec. I think we are in the same situation, and I’m perfectly happy.”

Quebec cheese and dairy producers have been the main critics of the deal in the province. They fear increased EU access to Canadian markets will swamp their protected industries. Mr. Marceau said he is satisfied with Ottawa’s promises to compensate dairy producers in the transition.

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard underlined Mr. Charest’s “historic” contribution to the effort. He suggested Quebec dairy will “be able to compete with anyone in the world, and win.”

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