Opposition politicians are hoping that Quebec’s anti-collusion unit director will be able to give them undeniable proof that a public inquiry is needed to clear up allegations of corruption in the construction industry.
The Parti Québécois said it is eager to hear Jacques Duchesneau explain the extent of organized-crime activities when he appears before a National Assembly committee on Tuesday. A report Mr. Duchesneau prepared for the Quebec government that was leaked last week included devastating findings on collusion and corruption in the industry. He is expected to expand on his report at the committee hearing.
The PQ is also curious about Mr. Duchesneau’s conclusion that construction companies and engineering firms schemed to divert public funds illegally to political parties in exchange for government road building contracts.
“If there were to be an increase in influence peddling in the political sphere, we would not be talking about only marginal criminal activities or even parallel ones, we would have to suspect an infiltration, if not an outright control, of certain government or municipal functions such as those in the awarding of public contracts,” Mr. Duchesneau stated in his report.
PQ transportation critic Nicolas Girard said this was probably the most important issue in the Duchesneau report that needs to be addressed during Tuesday’s hearings.
“We need to examine the ties between the awarding of contracts and political parties. We have to get to the bottom of things. And the one place this could best be done … is before a full public inquiry. Mr. Duchesneau would be a key witness at such an inquiry,” Mr. Girard said.
For now, Mr. Duchesneau will be the star witness – in fact, the only witness.
Mr. Duchesneau supports the idea of holding a public inquiry into the alleged corruption in the construction industry. But during the popular Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle broadcast on Sunday night, Mr. Duchesneau said it would be best to proceed first with a closed-door inquiry in front of three judges.
Mr. Duchesneau said many potential witnesses are afraid to speak publicly about the cartels, bid-rigging and influence-peddling outlined in his report. He said many fear for their lives and the physical well-being of their families, which is why a closed-door inquiry would be a first step in helping clean up the industry.
But the opposition parties rejected the idea, saying that Quebeckers have the right to know if their tax dollars are being wasted through corrupt practices involving billions of dollars a year in public funds.
The Minister of Public Security, Robert Dutil, hasn’t rejected the idea of holding a closed-door inquiry, but showed little enthusiasm.
“The permanent anti-corruption unit under Robert Lafrenière already has the power to investigate and make recommendations. He also has a duty to publicly outline twice a year the schemes used in corrupt activities,” ministry spokesman Mathieu St-Pierre said. “Mr. Dutil won’t lose any time in making up his mind on the proposal.”
The opposition parties have been demanding a full public inquiry into the construction industry for well over two years. The report by Mr. Duchesneau, a former head of the Montreal police, offered the first independent account of the type of illegal practices that have long been rumoured to be running rampant in the construction industry.
Mr. Duchesneau’s five-hour testimony on Tuesday may offer a more detailed glimpse into the underground activities that have plagued the industry, but it may not meet expectations of those who hope it will prove that a public inquiry is needed.
“The public’s confidence has been shaken by all the media reports on collusion and corruption,” Mr. Girard said. “The only way to win back people’s confidence is to have an open public inquiry to examine the problems identified in those reports.”