by Irwin Block
A Montreal city councillor friend whom I met at a play this winter tried to minimize the explosive testimony at the Charbonneau inquiry into collusion and corruption in the construction industry in connection with city contracts. “I don’t believe half of what is being said,” the councillor, considered progressive and honest, remarked.
Unfortunately for my friend, if even half of what has been recounted in ongoing hearings is corroborated, it indicates that a culture of corrupt practices has been allowed to grow for more than a decade in the Census Metropolitan Area of Montreal, which covers 3.8 million people, and the good people in government have done nothing to stop it.
This system links construction firms, often with mafia ties, and major engineering offices to illegal practices by elected and high-ranking municipal officials and managers in Montreal, Laval and rapidly growing north-shore exurbs. As of the spring, when hearings were extended into 2015, there was the beginning of evidence that illegal campaign donations by major engineering firms had been made to both provincial Liberal and Parti Québécois campaign coffers.
Corrupt practices involving municipalities included rigged contracts to enable mafia payoffs, brazen cash kickbacks to elected officials and managers, illegal campaign contributions, limiting competition for construction contracts to a favoured few with the right political and/or mafia connections, and threats to discourage competition. This criminal system has developed in a moral and ethical vacuum, as generally well-paid officials participated in or tolerated corrupt practices and whistleblowers have been virtually nonexistent – except for the courageous few who leaked information anonymously to the media.
Among the most egregious examples: Former city of Montreal engineer Gilles Surprenant said he accepted more than $730,000 in kickbacks from a dozen contractors who had submitted inflated bids. Former city of Montreal enginner Luc Leclerc admitted he had accepted more than $500,000 in kickbacks from construction firms, as well as vacations, hockey tickets and home renovations. He also described a golf vacation with the “charming and funny” mafia kingpin Vito Rizzuto. When these revelations are considered in parallel with raids and arrests by the Quebec Provincial Police anticorruption unit and criminal charges laid, what is unfolding is the biggest corruption scandal in Quebec in living memory.