Collusion stretches beyond the borders of Montreal, Laval: contractor
Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012 10:19AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 21, 2012 7:55PM EST
The Charbonneau Commission learned Wednesday that the system of collusion, where a group of contractors get together to fix prices and keep outsiders out, likely exists far beyond the borders of Montreal and Laval.
Contractor Andre Durocher said he wanted to play honestly was forced to abandon his business, as cartels were literally taking over the public works business.
In his second day of testimony before the commission inquiring into corruption in the construction industry, Durocher said how precarious ownership of a firm dependent on government contracts can be.
The owner of Excavation Panthere described how he was subject to threats and intimidation, and that he felt collusion began to take hold beyond Montreal and Laval in 2002.
Within five short years, outsiders were out of work, he said.
“(This happened in) St-Jerome, Boisbriand, Blainville, Mascouche, Terrebonne, Repentigny, L'Assomption,” he said.
The culprits were cities working with specific engineering firms, who in turn worked with specific contractors, and found ways to circumvent calls for tenders, said Durocher. This forced small players out of business and drove up costs.
“You could see the change. It was one engineering firm, a contractor and a city,” he testified. “Then sometimes it was a contractor and an engineer.”
Durocher may have wanted to remain honest, but said he did try his hand at collusion by trying to put together his own group. It collapsed as quickly as he put it together.
Last month, former construction boss Lino Zambito made mention of Durocher’s attempt at a cartel, calling it amateurish at best.
Without a constant stream of work, employees, especially the best ones, left Durocher’s business in order to get their weekly paycheque.
But that fight for a contract can often lead to threats, and evidence that someone within city hall is letting competitors know who wants work.
Durocher said that he once picked up papers to bid for a job on Gouin Blvd., and less than an hour later received a phone call from Gilbert Theoret, of Theoret Excavations, telling him not to bid.
"[My partner] did not have time to come back to the office, and that is when we got the famous call," said Durocher.
When asked, Durocher said he did not know Theoret, but knew it was him "because he had introduced himself. The job was to be his, it was him."
Durocher refused that request, saying he needed to work, and would not agree to make a bid above a $9 million floor price.
On Monday, Durocher said that he was once approached by four large, mean-looking men in a black Cadillac and told to back off from a bid.
When he refused, the city of Mirabel later cancelled the call for tenders, in what Durocher is certain is a case of collusion involving the engineering firm that was supervising the bid.
Durocher said he always stood up to any attempt at collusion, but in the end was able to force municipalities to keep costs low because he was honest and not inflating his prices.
He eventually gave up trying to win contracts in Montreal because the hassle and harassment was too much, but he testified that even in communities like Mirabel, Blainville and St. Jerome, contractors were working together to inflate prices.
In a case that is still being investigated, Durocher's brother was punched in the face by someone wearing brass knuckles. Durocher believes this was a blatant attempt at intimidation.
To this day, Durocher said collusion is still in place, because few contractors ever get caught.
“You steal $100 from a depanneur and you get a year in jail. The guy who stole $10 million dollars is still walking free. Big difference,” said Durocher.
He thanked the commission for its work, but said it had come too late.
Durocher said the system of collusion and favouritism cost him a business his family spent decades building.