Superhospital staffers forced to toe line: Charbonneau Commission
Multiple witnesses have told the Charbonneau Commission they noticed problems and suspicious activity in the process to choose who would build the McGill superhospital, but either chose or were convinced to ignore their findings.
The corruption inquiry is taking a closer look at how the MUHC repeatedly overruled the selection process to prefer the losing bidder -- SNC-Lavalin -- to build and manage the McGill superhospital.
Eight people, including former MUHC head Arthur Porter, are facing charges in connection with corruption and influence peddling related to the project.
The superhospital is a public-private partnership, with the government fronting some of the money while the company building and managing the hospital will collect revenues for years to come.
The public aspect of the bidding process was supervised by Infrastructure Quebec, and Gabriel Soudry explained at length how he noticed some measures that Porter and others took to favour SNC-Lavalin.
However Soudry said he was repeatedly convinced by Porter that everything was on the up-and-up, with the man's charisma overwhelming any feelings that something was wrong.
Soudry said it was only once the inquiry began looking at the superhospital, and when Porter and others were charged, that he realized he may not have acted appropriately.
"Ever since I learned that St-Clair Armitage was arrested I sent documents to the commission because I had not realized there was a plot," said Soudry.
Nobody facing charges has yet to stand trial.
However, according to previous witnesses at the inquiry, SNC-Lavalin gave Porter and his assistant Yanai Elbaz $22.5 million in bribes in order to win the project to build the superhospital.
Investigators testified that in exchange for the cash, Porter and Elbaz worked tirelessly to discredit SNC-Lavalin's competitors during the bidding process, including arguing that one consortium should be removed for spurious reasons.
At one point Porter went directly to then-premier Jean Charest in order to sway the bidding process.
Witnesses also said that Porter was extremely competent and nobody questioned his integrity until after he resigned his posts as head of the MUHC and chair of Canada's CSIS watchdog agency.
“His aura transcended everything,” said Soudry.
The MUHC also had in place a series of sub-committees, where staffers and professionals were brought in to give their input. But as the commission now reveals, their recommendations would be quickly ignored by management.
Immacalata Franco, who also took the stand Wednesday, was brought on board at the MUHC to make recommendations on behalf of staffers and professionals. The various committees she sat on rejected the SNC-Lavalin proposal, in favour of the Spanish consortium.
“In 2009, all subcommittees had that recommendation,” said Franco.
Franco said she noticed Elbaz had a clear bias for SNC-Lavalin, adding that he threatened her.
“I was told to do what the boss said, and to remember who paid my salary,” Franco testified.
Still, her honesty didn't pay off. The hospital subsequently removed her from the committees, until SNL-Lavalin won the contract.