Quebec construction industry has come crashing down
Like a building with insufficient supports and beams, at some point the structure is going to give way. So too has the Quebec construction industry – so to speak – because of corruption
After four years of investigation, examination and testimony, the province’s commission on public contracts and the construction industry has delivered 60 recommendations to the Quebec government.
In 2011, then Liberal government leader Jean Charest, launched an inquiry into corruption in that province’s construction industry in response to mounting pressure two years after a Radio-Canada investigation into corruption within the biggest construction union.
Four years of hard work has involved numerous whistleblowers willing to lay everything on the line to speak up. From dodgy donations, keys to a new car, tickets to Montreal Canadians games, Caribbean trips, and yes the mafia – no stone has been left unturned (no pun intended).
One startling testimony came from a star witness, Ken Pereira, a former employee of the Quebec Federation of Labour’s (FTQ) construction wing, who states that the company was run by the Hells Angels and the mob. He turned to the police after discovering his life was in danger. Like a scene from a movie, he testified how he was in his car one day when a mini-van pulled in front of him and blocked his way. Two men got out and approached him. You can imagine him trembling, when he finally learns that these two men were actually the police and they tell him that his name has been floating around in wiretapping exercises. They thought his life was in danger. That’s how bad things got. This is serious stuff.
The commission charged with investigating corruption in this industry has tabled its report and it includes 60 recommendations from protection for whistleblowers, reforms to political donation rules and stiffer penalties for companies and individuals who break the law. The report, published in French, specifically states the following for the protection of whistleblowers (roughly translated via my basic French):
The government must do more to protect whistleblowers. The industry must stop corruption and corruptors that interfere with people who want to blow the whistle. All whistleblowers must be taken seriously by anybody who that whistleblower comes forward to with their concern. It is recommended that the government adopt better processes and stronger measures to ensure that whistleblowers are protected. It is also recommended that the issues of lobbying, lack of ethics, lack of protection of whistleblowers, lack of transparency, and management of public funds be addressed.
But let’s be fair here. This isn’t a problem that’s confined by the province’s borders. Quebec’s Premier says his province isn’t the only one with a corruption problem. It’s definitely more widespread than originally believed. He says just imagine if a similar exercise was launched across the country. You’d certainly find similar activities. Quebec just had the courage to face it and act on it.
Corruption in construction also isn’t limited to North America. It’s a global problem. According to Transparency International, corruption in this industry, which includes bribery, extortion and fraud) is damaging:
- It damages the developed and developing world, resulting in projects which are unnecessary, unreliable, dangerous, and over-priced. This can lead to loss of life, poverty, economic damage and underdevelopment
- It damages companies, resulting in tendering uncertainty, wasted tender expenses, increased project costs, economic damage, reduced project opportunities, extortion and blackmail, criminal prosecutions, fines, blacklisting, and reputational risk
- It damages individuals, resulting in reduced morale, criminal prosecution, fines and imprisonment
Transparency International believes that corruption on construction projects can only be eliminated if “all participants in construction projects co-operate in the development and implementation of effective anti-corruption actions which address both the supply and demand sides of corruption. These participants include governments, funders, project owners, contractors, consultants, and suppliers, and the business and professional associations which represent these parties.”
This has been a painful chapter in Quebec’s history that shows how corruption infiltrated every corner of the province’s multibillion-dollar public construction industry and seeped from the biker gangs and the mafia into bureaucracy and politics.
It took lots of hard work and testimony from numerous brave whistleblowers, who literally feared for their lives, to bring this ‘project’ crashing down. There is certainly something to be said about individuals who are willing to come forward to shed light on what they know is wrong and harmful to the public. The recommendations from the report include better protection for whistleblowers and for incidents brought forward to be taken seriously. Let’s hope entities that make up this industry put effective anti-corruption process into place that include anonymous ethics reporting hotlines.
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