Bits and Bites, Thursday February 11th,2010
After long last, Bits and Bites is making a return on this cold rainy Thursday !
The once weekly Wednesday feature has been on a hiatus for a while, as I’ve devoted as much spare time as possible to investigating and researching a very special project. Over the next month or two, I will be bringing you several posts in a series that takes a very revealing look at the way government and industry do business together in BC .
With that in mind, what better way to start today’s edition of Bit’s and Bite’s, than with a look at what is going on in Quebec now.
You may have heard the allegations of organized crime running much of the construction industry in Quebec,and for that matter, doing business with both municipal and provincial governments. In fact, over the last few months the issue has exploded following the arrests of 10 men, with calls for an independent probe into the many allegations of mafia funded political contributions, bid-rigging and collusion- all between construction companies controlled by organized crime and both levels of government.
Leading the charge to investigate and show the depth of corruption, is former judge John Gomery, although reception from the federal government has been embarrassingly weak, as this excerpt from a report last year details:
….an explosive report last week on Radio-Canada’s investigative show “Enquete,” highlighted extensive Mafia control over infrastructure spending. The report alleged that up to 80 per cent of the road construction contracts in Montreal are controlled by the powerful Italian Mafia. Price-fixing and collusion between about 14 companies has driven up the price of infrastructure contracts in the Montreal region 35 per cent higher than they should cost, the report said. Federal parties have refused to weigh in. The governing Conservatives called it a provincial matter last week, the NDP refused to comment, and the Liberals never responded to a request for a reaction
Today, Premier Jean Charest is still resisting the call for a public inquiry into the issue, stating he wants police investigations to end first… (or his time as premier is over, I suspect!)
Another report about this continually developing story came across my desk a couple weeks ago and details a real horror story of what one concrete company owner experienced, after learning the hard way who really makes the deals in town… Think ” meet my little friend..” and you have the right idea. The article goes on to say this :
….recent reports have come to light of an intricate bid-rigging system for contracts in Montreal, whereby a group of construction firms agree in advance on a price and which company will submit the lowest bid for each project. Industry insiders say a group of 14 companies, dubbed the Fabulous 14, receives the lion’s share of public tenders from the city. As a result, construction work in Montreal costs about 35 per cent more than anywhere else—this according to retired Transports Québec official François Beaudry.
Sauvé says political parties and organized crime take a cut of the inflated prices in order to contribute to these big political campaigns.
There is a long history of collusion in Montreal’s construction industry, says Antonio Nicaso, an award-winning journalist, a bestselling author and an internationally recognized expert on organized crime.
“This is something that has existed at least since the 1970s,” says Nicaso. “That’s why when the reports came out about this, I wasn’t surprised at all.”
Nicaso doesn’t doubt that the mob is a big investor in the construction industry, and has been for many years. It makes sense for organized crime to get into the construction industry, as it allows criminals to launder money that comes from smuggling and dealing drugs.
Nicaso says Montreal isn’t alone. There are similar ties between construction companies, the mob, and politicians in every city in Canada. The difference is that the Montreal mafia has wielded influence for much longer, since the 1940s or 1950s, so the system is much more intricate there.
Serious allegations, and serious consequences, some of which I will be exploring in the series to come. While we are on the topic of corruption in government, you may want to check out a couple of my recent postsfor some related background information, both of which take a look at tendering irregularities here in the ministry of transportation.
The second is here – and construction/legal publications aside – has not been covered anywhere else by the local media to date : https://lailayuile.wordpress.com/2010/01/08/tercon-contractors-ltd-vs-british-columbia-ministry-of-transportation-and-highways/
Shocking, not only because it promises to be one of the most important legal cases for the construction industry across Canada, but because it also details how the BC ministry of transportation ( MOT) actually tried to hide the involvement of an unqualified participant in a bid for a provincial project. Check back tomorrow for an important update on that case.
Moving on to other political venues… You must have heard the phrase, ‘the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing’ ? Perhaps someone could let the Surrey School board in on it, because they are guilty of the biggest bit of hypocrisy I think I’ve ever heard of!
Parents in School District 36 ( here in Surrey) have reacted strongly and loudly on behalf of the School board, who asked all of us to speak out against the massive budget shortfall in the coming 2010-2011 school year -a whopping $15 million dollars shortfall that it. Of course, parents have responded in droves, because last year the school board actually cut the number of teaching days to meet the budget, so the announcements that more jobs and programs will have to be cut- again- is yet another smack in the face of all parents. Surrey is one of the few districts in BC that still has a rapidly growing enrollment, one so large that new schools often have portables on site the very first year they are open!
So, considering all the doom and gloom promises of children suffering educational cuts, lack of teaches or supports, and no more programs for the wee kiddies…imagine my surprise, and anger when I found out that this very same school board is building themselves a fancy, brand-spanking new office building with a conference centre? At the cost of $ 40 million dollars, which is twice the price of our budget shortfall this year. Yes? Can you imagine the apoplectic spitting that charged from my mouth, accompanied by a stream of very foul language? I bet the School board can…
I have to send a hearty thank- you out to The Sun education reporter/blogger, Janet Steffenhagen for this one, because a reader sent her first post to me, followed by her second, which has the response of this hypocritical school board to her inquiries. Which, in my opinion, is a lot of bafflegab considering what dire straits this district really is in.
Here’s some budget ‘input’ for you Doug Strachan,
Education IS NOT about nice new, modern buildings where the board and district employees can perpetuate more bureaucratic bafflegab while lunching on overpriced catered chicken in your new conference centre, but IT IS about making sure kids have the right tools and staff to learn. We’ve already lost 9 days in this school year,making the days our kids do go to school all that more valuable, so what’s your next move?
Virtual teachers where one person can teach 5 kindergarten classes at once?
I for one, will make sure every parent I know in Surrey, knows about this ridiculous amount of spending. I will make sure they know that a fiscally responsible board could have, and should have seen this current situation coming over the last few years, and still chose to allocate funds to needs other than direct education. And, I will make damn sure that the parents remember this when the time comes to vote for a new school board. How’s that for budget input?
Last but not least…as a HUGE fan of the Discovery Channel show ‘ Deadliest Catch’, it was the saddest of news to hear of the passing of Captain Phil Harris, at the age of 53. Phil was that rough and ready, manliest man captain of the Cornelia Marie, but inside that tough, tattooed exterior was the most sensitive of hearts that the camera was so good at showing viewers. My best regards to his family and friends.