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Probe urged into skewed awarding of construction contracts

A handful of construction entrepreneurs with close ties to the Quebec Liberal Party received the lion's share of municipal contracts in many Montreal boroughs, fuelling demands in the National Assembly for a full public inquiry into the construction industry and the awarding of government contracts.

In a report tabled Tuesday, Montreal city auditor Jacques Bergeron said he was "perplexed" to uncover that while municipal contracts were offered to the lowest bidder, some boroughs "awarded a strong portion of their contracts to the same entrepreneurs."

For instance, Mr. Bergeron noted that between 2006 and 2009 the borough of Anjou awarded all of its five major contracts, worth $6.2-million, to Construction Louisbourg, owned by Tony Accurso.

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In Verdun, 22 contracts worth $22.6-million were awarded to Entreprises Catcan, owned by Paolo Catania. In the borough of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the more lucrative paving contracts were awarded to BP Asphalte, owned by Joe Borsellino. Another Borsellino company, Construction Garnier, received 65 per cent of the borough of Saint-Laurent's city contracts, while another 20 per cent went to Ciments Lavallée, owned by Mr. Accurso.

Mr. Accurso, Mr. Catania and Mr. Borsellino are all entrepreneurs with close ties to Premier Jean Charest's provincial Liberals. The opposition parties in the National Assembly have produced documents over the past year showing that the entrepreneurs and their family members contributed generously to the Quebec Liberal Party.

"The Montreal auditor has shed light on what has all the appearances of an organized system of collusion in the awarding of construction contracts. We have the clear impression that companies have divided up the territory [in Montreal]" said Parti Québécois public security critic Bertrand St-Arnaud in the National Assembly on Wednesday, citing the example of the Catania family that "contributed more than $120,000" to the Liberals over the past few years. "Why is the Premier protecting those who are obviously corrupting the system?"

Mr. Charest remained steadfast in refusing opposition parties' demand for a full public inquiry that would not only examine allegations of corruption in the construction industry and the awarding of government contracts, but also the alleged kickbacks in return for political contributions.

"All the PQ and foremost its leader have done is make unfounded allegations and insinuations," Mr. Charest said in response to opposition attacks in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

As a symbol of "purity" and "transparency," opposition MNAs wore white scarves around their necks at a joint news conference urging Liberal members to bow to the demands of their constituents and support the holding of a public inquiry. But Action démocratique du Québec said that while they will support the call for a public inquiry, they refused to take part in the PQ's efforts at convincing Liberals to defeat their own government and precipitate an election.

"We don't want to play in that movie," said ADQ Leader Gérard Deltell. "[Parti Québécois leader]Pauline Marois's agenda is to put down this government, have an early election and we don't agree with that."

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The opposition parties stubbornly pursued their strategy all week, trying to characterize the Liberals' refusal to hold a public inquiry as a cover-up. This week, the ADQ said it had identified another case of a potential conflict of interest involving a government regional development fund. According to documents obtained by the ADQ, two of the fund's three managers are alleged to own companies that received money from the fund.

In another instance, the opposition in the National Assembly alleged that numerous provincial and City of Montreal contracts worth several millions dollars were often awarded without public tenders to BCIA security agency. The company filed for bankruptcy last month, and the opposition parties want to know where the money went.

The owner of BCIA, Luigi Coretti, has been closely associated with the Quebec Liberal Party. Mr. Coretti's company was at the centre of a controversy that led to the firing earlier this month of former family minister Tony Tomassi after he admitted using a BCIA company-owned credit card.

Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis also admitted meeting Mr. Coretti when the businessman was seeking a permit to carry a firearm. After refusing Mr. Coretti's request on three occasions, the police finally gave him a permit following Mr. Coretti's meeting with the minister and a senior staff member. Mr. Dupuis denied intervening on Mr. Coretti's behalf.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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