Companies wanting to deal with the Quebec public sector will be required to bear a seal of integrity if they wish to bid on the billions of dollars in contracts awarded each year.
And it will be the province's securities commission which will be given sweeping powers to determine whether companies meet tough new standards outlined in the Parti Québécois government's anti-corruption legislation.
As allegations of influence peddling, collusion, bribes and widespread corruption in the construction industry were being corroborated by testimony before the Charbonneau commission, the PQ said it has become urgent to act now to break the system of corruption that has swept the province.
"Day after day, the hearings at the Charbonneau Commission unfortunately fuel the disappointment and the sense of helplessness many of us have… Clear, rigorous measures are needed to halt collusion and corruption in the awarding of public contracts," said PQ Treasury Board President Stéphane Bédard.
In the first bill tabled in the National Assembly since it took power last September, the PQ minority government said that from now on, all contracts tendered by the province, municipalities, all government agencies and crown corporations will be awarded only to reputable companies.
"We must ensure that in Quebec, it is profitable to be honest," Mr. Bédard said.
The bill will cover close to $25-billion in public contracts awarded each year and about 24,000 companies who bid on various projects in all areas of public sector activities. The same rules will apply to companies from outside Quebec. The bill covers all contracts worth more than $25,000.
Other legislation will be tabled in the coming days dealing with the funding of political parties and changes to how construction jobs are distributed among the province's unionized labour force.
Companies wishing to bid on public contracts will have to register with the Quebec securities commission known as the Autorité des marchés financers (AMF). The companies, along with their directors, partners or officers, will be audited by the province's permanent anti-corruption police unit; they will need to meet the integrity requirements defined by the law before receiving a three-year authorization permit to bid on contracts.
Any company, associate or person found guilty of a criminal offence such as bribery, fraud, money laundering or breach of trust in the past five years will be refused the "privilege" to bid on public contracts.
The AMF will be given broad, arbitrary powers to determine whether companies or individuals have the "public confidence" to tender bids on contracts.
Even if a company was never convicted, the right to bid on contracts will be revoked or refused if the securities commission finds that "public confidence in the enterprise concerned is undermined on account of a lack of integrity" on the part of a company, its owners, directors or partners – even those outside the company who may have direct or indirect control over the business.
The opposition parties welcomed the legislation but said it didn't go far enough.
The Liberals argued that the bill was vague on the subjective powers granted to the securities commission, and were concerned that the anti-corruption unit will get bogged down in paperwork rather than chase criminals.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec insisted that the bill was too narrow in scope, but said it would co-operate with the government to ensure quick passage before Christmas.