Armed with search warrants from the Quebec Superior Court, the federal Competition Bureau launched a seried of raids Tuesday morning as part of a probe into the activities of firms that sell highway light poles, lighting towers, signs and other such products.
"We are investigating with respect to the sale of street lighting and highway traffic signs," said Bureau spokeswoman Gabrielle Tassé.
"We are just gathering evidence at this point. There has been no conclusion of wrongdoing," she said.
Bureau policy is to keep confidential the names of the companies being investigated as well as details about the probe, she said.
Among the types of anti-competitive activities the Bureau investigates are price-fixing and bid-rigging.
Possible collusion and price-fixing among street-lighting and signage companies was mentioned in an explosive report by anti-corruption crusader and former Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau. It was tabled in the National Assembly in 2011 and described in detail an elaborate network of influence peddling and collusion in the awarding of government road contracts. He described a provincial network of about 60,000 lights and 2,000 tall lighting towers.
The provincial Ministry of Transportation is a major customer for highway lighting and signage infrastructure.
"It's quite a market," said Mr. Duchesneau. He described a small group of companies sharing the contracts among themselves in a closed, cartel-like group.
"It's akin to a cartel. There is no competition possible," he said.
The inquiry into corruption in Quebec's construction industry headed by Justice France Charbonneau has so far been focused on the awarding of municipal contracts. It will look closely into provincial government contracts at a later date.
On Monday, the province's special anti-corruption unit – UPAC – arrested interim Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum on a series of criminal charges, including corruption, fraud and breach of trust in connection with two real estate projects when he was mayor of a western Montreal borough, between 2006 and 2011. Mr. Applebaum resigned Tuesday, and said he will fight the charges vigorously.
Mr. Duchesneau is the former head of the Ministry of Transportation's anti-collusion squad and is now a member of the National Assembly for the Coalition Avenir Québec party.
Once it became public, Mr. Duchesneau's report triggered public outrage and forced former Liberal premier Jean Charest to create the Charbonneau Commission after he had refused to do so for more than two years.