It was October, 1969, when Inter State Paving Inc., a company founded six years earlier by Pietro Rizzuto, got the contract that would propel it to the top of Quebec's booming road-construction industry.
Until then, Mr. Rizzuto's company had received only minor government contracts. One of its first was awarded by Daniel Johnson's Union Nationale government in the fiscal year 1968-1969 for a job worth almost $135,000, according to public-accounts documents.
Mr. Rizzuto wanted in on the construction boom that was taking place in Quebec. Mr. Johnson had died in September of 1968 and Jean-Jacques Bertrand was premier. And Inter State Paving submitted and won its first bid for a major road project, a four-lane extension of Highway 19 known as the Papineau-Leblanc Autoroute in Laval. The approximately three-kilometre project also included the construction of the de la Concorde, DeBlois and St-Martin Boulevard overpasses.
It was the de la Concorde Boulevard overpass that collapsed two weeks ago today, crushing five people to death. After government inspectors reviewed a number of the city's bridges, the DeBlois overpass was also ordered shut down and demolished. The St-Martin overpass remains open.
The project had been approved by the government in May of 1969 and the engineering firm Desjardins & Sauriol (since renamed Dessau-Soprin) had been hired the previous year to prepare all the plans and cost estimates, as well as oversee "the complete supervision of the projects," according to a cabinet document obtained by The Globe and Mail.
On Oct. 30, 1969, Inter State Paving was awarded the contract for approximately $3.8-million. Work was to begin immediately and, according to the contract, had to be completed by July 1, 1971. The company was eager to meet its deadline and started work on the site at the beginning of November.
The company had planned to excavate and complete the first stage of concrete work on the de la Concorde overpass between November, 1969, and February, 1970, according to Ministry of Transportation documents at the time. But the company discovered that a major Bell Canada underground cable that served almost the entire City of Laval needed to be relocated before work could begin.
During a meeting with Desjardins & Sauriol engineers and company representatives on Nov. 14, 1969, it was decided that construction of the overpass would begin the following spring. It was only the first delay.
By the time construction began in mid-April of 1970, the construction industry was in turmoil. A three-week strike of construction workers began in May.
This was a time of great upheaval in Quebec. Doctors were threatening to go on strike to protest against the introduction of a publicly funded health-care system. The newly formed separatist party, the Parti Québécois, was gaining momentum and had just elected its first seven members to the Quebec National Assembly. And construction workers were being terrorized by construction unions affiliated to the Fédération des travailleurs du Québec (known as the FTQ-construction), whose leadership was tied to organized crime.
According to the Cliche Commission into corruption in the construction industry, which was headed by the late justice Robert Cliche and also included Brian Mulroney (who would later become prime minister) and Guy Chevrette (who later became a prominent PQ minister), FTQ-construction leader André Desjardins used his army of hoodlums and former organized-crime members to exercise control over the construction industry and terrorize workers and construction companies alike.
The commission, which reported in 1975, also underscored the corruption of construction companies that would bribe local union leaders to keep peace on construction sites. It also investigated a system of bribes and corruption involving civil servants. Senior government officials acknowledged they felt helpless in a system that thrived on threats and blackmail.
"I am not saying we accept anarchy but when you have a revolver to your head, what can you do?" Claude Rouleau, the deputy minister of Roads and Public Works, said in his testimony before the commission.
Mr. Rouleau, an engineer, supervised all major road-construction projects in Quebec during this period.
Inter State Paving and Mr. Rizzuto were not mentioned in the commission report, but the turmoil around Quebec's road construction boom served as a backdrop to the construction of the de la Concorde overpass, which was delayed again by events.
The first round of concrete to build the overpass began on June 15, 1970. It should have taken only five weeks, according to a report by Desjardins & Sauriol chief engineers Marcel Dubois and Normand Plouffe in 1972. But the work wasn't completed until the end of September.
Had the company followed "a more realistic plan" it could have completed the work on time, the engineers stated in the report.
"The company built four overpasses at St-Martin [Boulevard]in less than five months and we believe the same personnel could have constructed the Concorde overpass and the [retaining]walls in the same period of time," Mr. Dubois wrote in another report to the government on July 13, 1972.
Construction of the cement retaining walls at the de la Concorde overpass should have begun in the summer of 1970, Mr. Plouffe wrote. Yet this portion of the work did not begin until February of 1971. In fact, the company wanted to delay the work until April, but the government insisted that because of the high level of unemployment in the province, work needed to proceed as planned.
A few weeks later, the company requested an extension, knowing that it appeared impossible to meet the July deadline. The request was refused by the government, pressuring the company into accelerating work on all portions of the highway project.
Inter State Paving Inc. had subcontracted key portions of the construction of the overpass to a cement company called Prud'homme & Frères Ltd., which then subcontracted the construction of retaining walls to Dominion Form Works Ltd.
"The subcontractor is totally responsible for the quality and the quantity of material used on the construction site," according to the contract signed by Inter State Paving Inc. with Prud'homme & Frères Ltd. on Jan. 18, 1970.
According to the contracts, the subcontractors were subjected to heavy fines if they failed to meet the required deadlines.
An engineer who worked for Inter State Paving Inc. said in an interview that the company won the contracts for the de la Concorde and De Blois overpasses by submitting the lowest bid.
Guillaume De Paoli said the contracts included work to pave Highway 19 and build the two overpasses. He failed to mention the St-Martin Boulevard overpass. But Inter State Paving didn't have the expertise to build overpasses, so it subcontracted the work to two specializing firms, which are now defunct.
"We executed the work according to the specifications of the Ministry [of Transport]" he said.
Yet in a report dated Jan. 20 1972, Mr. De Paoli recognized that for a number of reasons, including weather, delays in the expropriation of houses and other "difficult conditions," work was being done at many locations at the same time. "It goes without saying that such an erratic way of proceeding caused an increase in costs due to a lack of continuity in the work, delays, and winter conditions caused by wet and frozen land," Mr. De Paoli wrote.
Mr. Rizzuto demanded he be paid an additional $248,014 in extra costs partly due to the numerous delays. At first, the government offered him a settlement of $33,394. Correspondence between Mr. Rizzuto and Liberal transporation minister Bernard Pinard, as well as his top officials, indicated that Mr. Rizzuto bargained hard to get his money. Yet three examinations on the way Mr. Rizzuto's executed his contract found that many of his claims were completely unfounded.
"Our claims department engineer Léopold Garon wasn't very happy with the terms used by Mr. Rizzuto," deputy transportation minister René Blais wrote in a letter to his minister as talks became increasingly tense.
Mr. Pinard ordered another meeting with Mr. Rizzuto and after more than a year of negotiations, the claim was finally settled in September of 1973 for $86,415. That same year, Mr. Rizzuto's company received more than $5-million in road-construction contracts from premier Robert Bourassa's Liberal government.
In fact, when the Liberals took power in April, 1970, Inter State Paving Inc. received $2.3-million from the Quebec government, an amount that ballooned to more than $6-million by 1975 before sinking to a gloomy $48,341 in 1977 after the Parti Québécois came into office.
By then Mr. Rizzuto had been named to the Senate by prime minister Pierre Trudeau and became a leading figure in the Liberal Party as a major fundraiser. He was known for being a Jean Chrétien loyalist. He was chief organizer in the 1993 election, after being a key member in the effort to rebuild the Liberal Party after its 1984 defeat. He also was active in promoting national unity.
After the de la Concorde overpass collapse two weeks ago, Premier Jean Charest named former Quebec premier Pierre-Marc Johnson to head an inquiry into the disaster. Mr. Johnson may be called upon to examine the ties that his father's government had with Mr. Rizzuto back in the 1960s. According to the opposition parties, this places him in a clear conflict of interest.
Furthermore Mr. Johnson may have to seek testimony from Ciment Quebec Inc., which took over control of Prud'homme & Frères Ltd., the company that poured the cement at the de la Concorde overpass. Until his nomination as head of the commission, Mr. Johnson was a member of the board at Ciment Quebec Inc.
As for Inter State Paving Inc., the company changed its name to Corival Inc. in 1975. In 1997, the company was fined $56,000 after being convicted of fraud in an investigation into the use of fake invoices used by the company as business expenses for tax purposes.
Senator Rizzuto died in August of 1997 and the company in which he held a minority interest at the time of his death was no longer involved in the construction business. It has since become a numbered company registered with the federal government. Family members involved in the Rizzuto construction company may be asked to testify before the Johnson inquiry.