The Charbonneau Commission mandated to look into corruption and fraud among the construction industry, unions and government, tabled its final report on November 24, 2015. The report proposes 60 recommendations that lead commissioner of the inquiry, France Charbonneau, called “concrete solutions” to ensure government contracts are fairly managed.
Throughout the four-year inquiry, the commission’s discoveries have revealed numerous failings in the province’s regulatory regime and deep-rooted corruption and infiltration of organized crime in the construction sector.
Recommendations include the creation of a Public Procurement Authority to supervise government work providers and to ensure that major construction projects are carried out legally. Specifically, the authority would oversee the bidding and management process for public contracts “to prevent favoritism, collusion and corruption in the allocation and management of public contracts in the construction industry.”
The commission also proposes an independent committee of experts to decide the planning of work objectively without any pressure or political consideration. The politicians would decide which projects to pursue and the needs and priorities of contracts, but the planning and fulfillment of these contracts would be entrusted to this committee and the Public Procurement Authority.
In Charbonneau’s speech introducing the report she uttered a warning to the Quebec government:
“The government must do everything possible to prevent organized crime being introduced into the legal economy.”
Charbonneau also recommended better protection for whistleblowers to help denounce corruption, because without them, the government is not equipped with the right tools to detect corruption and wrongdoing. Protection for whistleblowers would include shielding their identities and providing more support for their efforts including financial support, when required.
“Whistleblowing must not be perceived as an act of betrayal but as an act of loyalty toward society,” Charbonneau said.
She is also recommending public consultations on whether municipal politicians’ mandates should be limited to prevent influence and complacency leading to corruption. Several recommendations focus on reforms to political financing rules, including removing tax credits for political contributions to shield political party financing from influence.
Other recommendations include:
- Requiring construction companies to report acts of intimidation or violence
- Increasing penalties for construction companies that break the law, up to and including cancelling their licences under Quebec’s building authority, la Régie du bâtiment du Québec
- Increasing penalties for people who make use of so-called “strawman” schemes (“get out of debt free” scams)
The province’s Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard said his government will “closely study the recommendations.”
The commission believes that because of this inquiry, the Quebec government, regulators and the public have better resources to understand, correct and modify some of the identified problem behaviours. The reaction of the public when such behaviours are reported in the media further demonstrates how much their work has served to educate. The population is now more than ever aware of the issues inherent to collusion and corruption in the construction industry and those of the financing of political parties.
The inquiry allowed us to better understand the workings of criminal organizations and the interest and infiltration they have in politics, the economy and the construction industry. The commission’s recommendations therefore arrive in fertile soil, and now that the sun is shining on this corruption, Quebeckers will likely demand the government take action. It will certainly look bad on the Liberals if they do not act quickly or if their actions appear insufficient, especially that this inquiry cost the taxpayers around 45 million dollars. We’ll keep watching!