Peeling the onion of corruption in Quebec
Published Thursday, April 19, 2012 3:36PM EDT
MONTREAL - For Quebecers who have long questioned the close relationship between municipalities and the province's construction companies, the 14 arrests on Tuesday were a long time coming.
David Hanna is one of them.
An urban planner who once ran for Montreal city hall because he was so upset with "the system," Hanna is an open critic of the cozy relationships that have rotted Quebec's construction industry.
"It's like a cancer that's spread throughout Quebec now and it's everywhere," said Hanna, who teaches at UQAM.
The result is a province that he says has been steadily falling apart and bleeding money because a small but powerful group of engineering and construction companies control almost every aspect of how major projects in Quebec are built and repaired.
"They've already spent a tonne of money. Millions of wasted funds that should have gone into fixing a bridge somewhere," said Hanna.
"They" according to Hanna, are the City of Montreal, it's surrounding municipalities and the province itself, all of whom lost control of the bidding process for contracts years ago when "The Cartel" began dividing up projects so they wouldn't have to compete.
"It clearly exists because our contracts are 30 per cent higher than they are in neighbouring provinces and states," said Hanna.
Those companies are the big fish in a small pond, left behind in the 80s when competing companies left Quebec. Those who stayed inherited the riches: a generation of lucrative infrastructure projects in and around Montreal.
"The people that stayed realized that there was an incredible opportunity to stay here, given the French language laws," said Martin Patriquin, a reporter for Maclean's magazine. "Someone like Accurso, doing what he's doing, bringing politicians onto this boat, fraternizing with union heads. that's an anachronism you don't get anywhere else in the country."
Construction magnate Tony Accurso was among those arrest during the pre-dawn raids by the Surete du Quebec's permanent anti-corruption squad on Tuesday.
According to Hanna the absence of leadership among elected officials and their bureaucrats did little to stop it. Some even benefitted through kickbacks.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg, the real tip of the iceberg," said Hanna.
In Montreal, the mergers, demergers and bureaucratic confusion only added to the lack of scrutiny and transparency, allowing those involved to reach deeper and deeper into city pockets.
"Corruption thrives on dysfunctional bureaucracies," said Hanna, who added that regular citizens have been largely silenced when they've attempted to criticize the process.
Beyond the impact on democracy in Montreal, the corruption also carries a heavy price tag.
"It isn't just out of pocket costs going to corruption, but our city is becoming less and less competitive compared to cities that are better managed. Companies will look at Montreal and say, ‘Eh ...give a pass," said Hanna.