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 first is found here:  https://lailayuile.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/laila-yuile-says-time-to-start-those-tolls-on-the-sea-to-sky-highway/  .

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.

5 thoughts on “Bits and Bites, Thursday February 11th,2010

  1. Nice work, Laila.

    Thanks for the tremendous effort you’ve put into this important investigation.

    Couldn’t help noticing how often the Ministry of Transportation came up in your commentary today … and I’m thinking back to what Paul Nettleton said today about the current Minister of Transportation. Look for his comment under “BC Rail is finally kaput …” [which sure isn’t my headline, it’s Michael Smyth’s for today — which kinda got our dander up]. Paul was M.L.A. for Prince George Omineca who spoke up for BC Rail (and BC Hydro) and was expelled from Gordo’s causus for the crime of honesty [sarcasm alert].

    Other comments are welcome at my place too:

    http://bctrialofbasi-virk.blogspot.com/

    Speak up … it’s later than we think! I thought I couldn’t be shocked any more, but our Gordo really did a number on BCRail … again … and right under our noses, this week … thanks to his little helper, Shirley Bond who, from Prince George, should jolly well know better.
    .

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  2. Laila

    Thank you for the kind words Mary. Coming from you, they mean a lot, and yes, the MOT is mentioned a lot today, and will be mentioned many, many more times in the months to come.

    I agree wholeheartedly Mary, wholeheartedly. The people do need to speak up now, and always.In times like this , our words are both our power and our weapons, and I firmly believe you can’t hide the truth forever. Someone, somewhere, always talks, and no one wants to take the fall for someone else. I hope this proves to be true in the Basi-Virk trial to come. Of which I am planning to be there as often as I can.

    I also think it is extremely important to keep in mind- especially now and in the months to come – that the raid on the legislature happened because of an investigation into organized crime…..

    An excerpt from this link sums it up.

    Nine people were arrested for drug charges just after officers raided the BC legislature in 2003. One of those arrested, Jasmohan Singh Bains, was sentenced to nine months for trafficking a dozen kilos of cocaine and conspiring to traffic 50 kilos per week to Toronto. It was wiretaps of his phone that led investigators to discover severe discrepancies in the privatization of BC Rail. The Bains sentencing has become legendary amongst citizen journalist circles as an example of a newsworthy story ignored by Big Media. The story was broken by an online entity known as BC Mary acting on an anonymous tip. Five months later, Ian Mulgrew mentioned the incident in his Vancouver Sun column.

    It’s hard to believe that connections between provincial government and organized crime could be ignored, especially when organized crime has been of the biggest news stories for several months, but it gets easier to believe what with the recent revelations of media manipulations by the BC Liberals. Recently disclosed documents reveal that an office exists to monitor and spin media from 7am to 9pm, which explains a lot of the comments that show up in the media and online. Campbell had his aid pose as a caller to throw easy questions at him on a radio talk show. Only softened reporters like Michael Smythe get interviews, and the answers to these interviews are controlled by outside sources. When Cabinet Ministers write Op/Ed pieces for the papers, they’re not really the ones writing them. There’s a lot more than can be gone into here to do with BC Liberal corruption of the press, and there’s enough of it in this case and in the recently disclosed 8000 pages to create an essay on organized crime in BC media. Don’t hold your breath looking for such an essay in BC media.

    Clearly, Mary, when it is all said and done, I truly believe that the people of BC will recognze what you have done to keep this case in the public eye, and what a true labour it has been. I know how much you have put into it, and it is inspiring. A commendation is in order.

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  3. nameless

    Well done for bringing this issue to the eyes of British Columbians.

    Perhaps your series might be the catalyst for a similar call for an inquiry here in British Columbia. Wouldn’t that be something?

    Keep up the good work. Although I have not commented previously, I read daily and will continue to do so, as do many others within my office.

    Like

  4. Chris

    Thanks for this, it’s important that people realise what is going on in this province. I only hope that people start speaking out about all the corruption before it gets too late.

    Just wanted to say that we( my wife and I) also enjoy your blog daily, and although we do read others, we find that we never have to question the accuracy of what you post. Some other bloggers seem to make things up as they go along. Thank you for the time you put into it!

    Like

  5. Shadow Kitty

    Way to go little buddy but you have barely scratched the surface. Here in B.C. the contractors are more cunning. I was a safety officer for a bunch of crooks. These morons wouldn’t pay overtime, violated whatever rules they wanted to and allowed their subcontractors to harrase their safety officers and do whatever they wanted. Just so you know this situation escalated until finally their stupidity caught up with them and a thirteen year old child was murdered on their property. Don’t worry though WCB has cleared the bastards from any wrongdoing and the RCMP have yet to investigate the issue as they couldn’t care less. This lugan developer did eventually fire me because i wouldn’t back off and now the dirtbags are busy bad mouthing me to every employer i apply for a job with. If your interested check out Derrick Fernie on youtube. A little advice for your own protection You might want to be quiet before somone starts doing to you what their doing to me Keep your head down as the bastards are out to silince all of us and they have powerfull friends to help them get away with their bullshit.

    Like

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