It may be a province or so away — and it may be a scandal that sounds like it should belong in a past generation — but corruption hearings underway in Quebec are well worth our attention.
Why? Because they should be a generation long past — and apparently, they aren’t.
There aren’t many provinces that haven’t had one kind of corruption scandal or another: Nova Scotia had its “tollgate” scandal, where anyone doing business with the province was expected to pay the governing party a portion of the value of each contract. This province had a wealth of experience with contract problems under Smallwood, and there have been lingering whispers about business owners being called and told the number of pricey fundraising dinner tickets they are required to buy as a result of landing provincial consulting contracts.
Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have both had constituency allowance scandals that have seen legislators convicted and sentenced, and the list goes on.
But the corruption hearings in Quebec are something else again.
There have been allegations — and videotape — of Quebec construction company officials handing over cash to Mafia bosses, purportedly in exchange for labour peace on their job sites.
And, more recently, there’s testimony that firms landing work with the city of Montreal in the past were required to pay a percentage to the political party affiliated with Montreal’s mayor at the time. In other words, widespread allegations of corruption that have even included directing contracts to companies connected to people with federal Conservative ties.
The testimony comes as there are growing rumblings about whether or not major Canadian design and engineering firms knowingly paid side benefits as part of landing Canadian and foreign contracts.
Many of the allegations have not been corroborated or tested in court — but they are being made under oath in front of a provincial inquiry.
The allegations involved — along with the suggestion that, at least in Montreal, corruption can be so entrenched that you’d have to be wilfully blind not to see it — are yet another example why all aspects of the tendering processes, especially with taxpayers’ money, should be as transparent and accountable as possible. When there’s big money at stake, there are plenty of reasons for untoward things to start happening.
Companies that want to do businesses with government have to recognize that a condition of that business is that they be willing to expose more of their workings and commercial details than they would in any private deal. If you’re willing to take the taxpayers’ business, you have to be willing to play by the taxpayers’ rules. It’s also why whistleblowing civil servants should have their jobs protected.
There’s a saying that “sunlight disinfects.” Hiding things in the uninspected dark won’t necessarily bring about black rot, but it sure doesn’t help.
You can simply say, “it can’t happen here.” This province’s scandals, from Mount Cashel to the pocket-filling MHAs of the constituency allowance scandal, would suggest otherwise.