Premier Charest refuses to call inquiry despite leaked report
Published Friday, September 16, 2011 12:14PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 5:59AM EDT
MONTREAL - The demands for a full-scale public inquiry into allegations of corruption in the construction industry have only grown since the task force investigating crime leaked its report to media outlets this week.
Engineers, union members, members of the public and politicians of all stripes -- except for the provincial Liberals -- are saying it is past time for an inquiry to be launched.
However Premier Jean Charest, accompanied by Public Security Minister Robert Dutil and Transportation Minister Pierre Moreau, said an inquiry will not happen under his watch.
In fact Charest took credit for the report that was leaked this week, even though he has not read it in full, saying it only happened because of the police investigation into corruption that he launched.
"We are taking steps to get results. We have created a competent and independent group and given them the means to gather evidence and charge criminals," said Charest.
The premier then reiterated something he has said many times since the creation of the anti-corruption unit: "We have to let the investigators do their work."
The premier also said that anyone who thinks corruption is a made-in-Quebec problem is ignoring the rest of the world.
"This impression that we're the only ones that have this kind of issue is wrong," said Charest, adding that New York, among other places, also faces continual fights against corruption.
Opposition leader Pauline Marois once again demanded that Premier Jean Charest take the matter out of the hands of police and let a public inquiry begin.
"There are too many problems that are presented in this report and they don't have the choice," said Marois.
Politicians with the city of Montreal agree.
"Absolutely the mayor of Montreal would support this public inquiry," said Michael Applebaum, member of the city's Executive Committee.
For years the premier has refused to call an inquiry, with many critics saying any inquiry would likely destroy the provincial Liberals, much as the Gomery Commission into Adscam tore up the federal Liberal party.
Investigative journalist Willam Marsden says Quebecers are outraged by the government's refusal to act.
"The taxpayer here in Quebec is paying upwards of 33 percent more or higher for a square footage of road that they do anywhere else in Canada," said Marsden. "They see their money going into projects that are just knee deep in corruption and what do they get out of it, they get an infrastructure that is literally falling on their heads."
Analysts and pundits are not surprised that Charest is refusing to call an inquiry.
Gazette Columnist Don Macpherson said he did find it odd that Charest has yet to read the full version of the leaked report.
"That was the only surprising thing he said today really," said Macpherson.
As for an inquiry, Macpherson thinks that if Charest calls one at all, it will only come a short time before dropping the writ for an election.
"He's seen what his own Bastarache inquiry did to his own party," said Macpherson. "Once you hold a public inquiry you lose control of the public agenda."
Macpherson added that Charest is probably hoping the anger about corruption in Quebec will fade from public memory, pointing out that Charest's public satisfaction numbers went up over the summer.
Report published online
Corruption in Quebec is currently being investigated by an anti-corruption unit called UPAC (Unité permanente anticorruption), led by former Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau.
This week a copy of a report by UPAC was leaked to La Presse and Radio-Canada.
Once the report was leaked, Transportation Minister Pierre Moreau said he did not think it would be wise to make it public.
"I don't want to interfere with the police investigation that is going on," said Moreau.
But that report has now been published online, with Radio-Canada citing public interest and a need for transparency.
"We have discovered a deeply-rooted and clandestine universe, of an unsuspected scope, that is harmful to our society - in terms of security, the economy, justice and democracy," the report states.
The report says police have proof that construction companies were paying public servants for information used to win contracts, that engineering companies regularly inflate their prices, and that contractors expect to break budgets knowing the government will pay.
The report specifically mentions the Transportation ministry as being lazy about challenging prices because companies respond with civil lawsuits that are settled out of court.
Duchesneau's team also established a direct link between the road construction industry and secret financing of political parties, and direct links between organized crime and construction companies.
In other words, the report finds that Quebec's construction industry is controlled by: "a small circle of professionals and business people who specialize in bending the rules in place to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers."
Reports of corruption not a surprise
Many, including the president of Quebec's Employers Council, say what's inside the report is no surprise.
"I think everybody was saying the same thing one year, even two years ago. Now what we have is more factual information," said Yves Thomas Dorval, president of the Conseil du Patronat.
The Transportation Minister says he wants anyone breaking the law, be they politicians, civil servants, contractors or engineers, to face the legal consequences,
Duchesneau says it's now up to police and crown prosecutors to follow up with investigations.