Federal fund great for corruption
Sep 3, 2013 / 8:09 pm
The federal government's historic multibillion-dollar infrastructure program has been lucrative for a few Quebec construction companies involved in illegal collusion, a witness testified at the province's corruption inquiry on Tuesday.
That testimony produced a rare mention of the federal government at the probe — where politics outside Quebec has been declared off-limits and beyond the mandate of an inquiry that has severely rattled governments within the province.
The potential implications of the testimony were clear: that Canadian taxpayers, from coast to coast, may have seen some of their money gobbled up in collusion schemes.
The claim came on the first day of the inquiry's return from its summer break, during an appearance on the witness stand by an engineering executive.
Patrice Mathieu, a former vice-president for Eastern Quebec at Aecom Technology Corp., said collusion in the Quebec City area began when companies there worked out a system in 2004 to rig a bid for work on retention basins at the St-Charles River.
They hit a snag when the Quebec City municipal government cancelled the bid, suspecting collusion, and started a new process — but the companies colluded again. They agreed not to lower their prices and to keep the same rates for engineers.
And the Quebec City system was born.
"It took a long time to install (the system) — but we got there," said Mathieu, who had worked for Quebec-based Tecsult which was bought by the U.S. giant Aecom in 2008.
The inquiry has already heard of other, more longstanding schemes, some dating back decades, in Montreal and elsewhere in the province. The testimony has also destroyed several careers — including that of Montreal's ex-mayor Gerald Tremblay.
But one thing the inquiry hasn't done is drag in the federal government and its multibillion-dollar infrastructure spending blitz of the last decade.
Until Tuesday, that is.
Mathieu said the companies involved in the collusion system really saw their profits take off after 2006 — as the federal government embarked on one infrastructure refurbishment plan, and then another as part of the post-2008-meltdown Economic Action Plan.
The feds have dedicated $53 billion since 2007 to the Building Canada Plan, billed as the most expensive infrastructure program in Canadian history. Quebec City saw its own infrastructure spending suddenly jump from $70 million to $150-160 million, Mathieu said.
"The manna, the abundance of projects, was there," Mathieu said.
He made the claim in end-of-day testimony. He did not explicitly state whether collusion was practiced on the contracts that received federal funding, nor did he state that collusion resulted in driving up the price tag.
He will be back on the witness stand Wednesday.
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