Long time readers know well my interest in public projects in BC, and the many complaints made by insiders in the industry about ‘ irregular bidding practices’ on many projects. I’ve followed SNC Lavalin through several projects with interest and detailed how SNC employees have gone onto work in the BC government, and how BC govt employees from the transportation ministry have gone onto work for SNC Lavalin.
Which is why, when the allegations of the PMO’s office pressuring Judy Wilson-Raybould to interfere in the SNC Lavalin case became public, my ears perked up and I did a bit of looking around to see what I could see..and sure enough SNC had been trying to drum up business here in BC while this trial played out in Quebec.
On November 1st 2018, SNC Lavalins ceo spoke to the press trying to ease concerns over the trial.
On November 14th 2018, in the midst of the trial back east, a lobbyist registered here in BC, on behalf of SNC Lavalin, to “Arrange a series of meetings with BC Government officials and SNC Lavalin representatives to provide an understanding of the professional capabilities and expertise in the area designing, engineering, and construction of oil and gas projects.”
That lobbyist was Richard Prokopanko, former Rio Tinto Alcan rep who made the news back in 2012 for getting a free ride on ‘Air Christy’ https://thetyee.ca/News/2012/03/02/Air-Christy/
(Of note, although the registration was November 14th, the undertaking date for lobbying activities was posted as November 6th)
So who did Prokopanko meet with? See below.
Now.. of course SNC Lavalin, faced with woes far and wide, is going to try and drum up some business with the new government-dear God, please don’t go down this road gain!
But considering that Rich Coleman is basically a big nothing burger in the Opposition ranks now, why did SNC Lavalin meet with him, and what did they talk about? He has no sway now…or does he?
Oh to be a fly on the wall of those meetings and I do hope an enterprising reporter does an FOI on that or at least questions what occurred and what was said…particularly at the meeting with Rich Coleman. ( Perhaps they are friends? Rich Coleman was on that Air Christy flight with Prokopanko,referenced above, too)
I hope every NDP mla will share what Propopanko wanted to sell…and if further meetings with SNC representatives occurred. After all, SNC has a long history in BC.
SNC business in BC
With the revelations in the bribery trial back east, it’s often surprised me that reporters haven’t looked harder at what work SNC has done here, just out of curiosity if nothing else.
The connection between SNC Lavalin and its subsidiaries that have been involved in BC projects was very strong and close under the BC Liberal government, and often did raise questions, most unanswered due to lack of transparency, and lack of ability for most reporters to know even what to ask.
And I could go on for days – SNC Lavalin also manage to get the lead design for Site C, a project under fire for direct award bids that should have gone to tender instead.
Corruption? There ain’t no corruption going on!
One thing that I again found compelling while going through these older posts, was a link I had inserted from 2011, when Pierrie Duhaime screamed loudly that Quebec DID NOT need a corruption inquiry. He was in fact adamant about it and I knew then that there was a lot he was worried about… and it reminded me of the people opposing a public inquiry in BC right now:
“The head of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin said Monday a report on alleged corruption in Quebec’s construction industry raises “troubling” issues, but not enough to warrant a public inquiry. Pierre Duhaime said the report by former Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau was very broad and didn’t substantiate allegations that have shaken the industry for nearly three years.
“What is surprising is that the report touches so many areas with so few facts. It surprised me to see a report with so little substance but so many allusions,” he said after speaking to the Canadian Club of Montreal.
Duhaime didn’t want to question the author’s credibility, but said most of the information came from anonymous sources.
He said the measures taken by the Quebec government were sufficient to counter corruption.
Premier Jean Charest has refused to call a public inquiry even though the report alleged ties among the province’s construction industry, its political parties and organized crime.
The report prepared by a Charest-appointed anti-collusion task force was leaked to media outlets last week.
It says a corrupt and weak civil service has allowed construction companies to drive up the price of public-works contracts in Quebec.
It suggests that last year alone there was a $347-million difference between original contract amounts and the final price tags.
At the end of the process, the report says, some of the companies’ profits are plowed into the coffers of political parties.
Perhaps the most explosive allegations revolve around ties between construction companies, the Mafia and criminal biker gangs.
It says the criminals act as enforcers for friendly construction companies, preventing rival firms from getting work done with threats or by pulling strings to create red tape.
Oh that outrage from Duhaime about there being no corruption didn’t age well, did it? Because he just ” pleaded guilty to a charge of helping a public servant commit breach of trust for his role in a bribery scandal around the construction of a $1.3-billion Montreal hospital. ”
But wow…does that quoted article sound like BC or what? Donations. Bids. Overpriced projects….
Why does all this matter?
Over years of research into specific public projects in BC, some of which was picked up by media outlets, I talked to a lot of industry insiders and heard a lot of allegations. Some of the people I spoke to took the time to teach me where and what to look for, and how to know what was standard business practice or something more unethical.
Some of those stories resulted in some of the most popular posts on my Best Of page, others that could not be proven by FOI ( records not found) were not written. But as we know, the last government had a strong record of not only deleting records, but of failing to document as well. ( see Rich Colemans statement ” I don’t deal in paper” ) Just because an FOI doesn’t result in records, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And like many other stories breaking now in the money laundering file, no one wanted to go on record.
Some of what was discovered was disturbing enough that I was relieved when the Ministry of Public Safety expanded their corruption probe into Quebecs industry, to include BC… and when it was complete, I requested a copy by FOI, and it was just emailed to me immediately without having to go through the process. And like the report Pierrie Duhaime said was just a bunch of unsubstantiated stuff from anonymous sources,we know now, that those anonymous sources were right. And I must bring this up again because any judicial inquiry in BC must not be limited to money laundering and gaming.. it must go much further.
An inquiry – which must have subpoena powers – isn’t about calling international crooks to testify- that is never going to happen. It’s about the domestic government and institutional failures that allowed this all to happen. Who. Why. When. Where and How can we prevent this from ever happening again. Journalism basics practiced on a judicial level. And contrary to what Horgan said yesterday, it can’t all be chalked up to incompetence – he should talk to Pierre Duhaime about the consequences of willful blindness....
No one denied anything…because no one wanted to talk about it.
I’m going to leave you with some excerpts from that Public Safety Report into corruption in construction in BC, because if I didn’t it would be a missed opportunity. If you’ve seen it before, just go have coffee or back to work. If you haven’t, think about what happened in Quebec…and why everyone is so damn naive to think it didn’t or isn’t happening here in BC too.
Imagine that. So few of the people or organisations contacted wanted to talk about this issue of corruption in commercial construction – and by association of public sector projects, the government – that it made it difficult to get a firm vision of what is going on. In fact, the report relied on many anonymous sources in some instances to get the information needed to make an assessment.In spite of this aura of reluctance and opposition to prying questions, the report did manage to uncover some revealing ways our public projects are at risk for corruption… and the way our government makes this possible.
- Investigators found that the most vulnerable aspect of the commercial construction process, including public projects, was the procurement process (bid process) and project management. Sources indicated officials responsible for procurement were often uninformed about the cost of construction project costs and the lack of accountability and transparency in the bidding process across Canada was noted.
- Investigators found many factors that contributed to an environment where bribery and fraud flourished and were nearly impossible to detect,including the large scale of public projects,the uniqueness and complexity of projects,the concealment of some items of work by others, the lack of transparency in the industry and the extent of government involvement.
- Situations that facilitate the formation of construction cartels and bribery, included the size of the project. Some projects like dams, power plants and highways that are extremely large in nature and costly,making it easier to hide bribes and over inflated claims. It was also noted these larger projects often have a limited number of bidders, and those bidders are often well known to public officials and other bidders, again facilitating bribes and cartels. ( Cartels are groups of businesses that operate together to lessen competition on jobs,often dividing projects into specific area of bidding for certain companies. It has been rumoured this is occurring on some big projects in BC, and other jurisdictions are cracking down on it, asking for whistleblowers to come forward )
- Lack of transparency – costs are often kept secret even when public money is being spent. Commercial confidentiality takes precedent over public interest, and publication of financial information and routine inspection of books and records which could uncover irregularities or prevent them, does not take place. ( in the case of the Sea to Sky highway project, companies participating in the project had to sign confidentiality agreements preventing them from talking about their involvement in the project in some cases, for up to 7 years, as you can read in the Sea to Sky shadow toll series on the Best Of page at the top of my site – Laila)
- The extent of government involvement– There is significant government involvement in public projects. Even private sector projects require government approval at different levels. the power wielded by government officials in every stage of the construction process,when combined with the structural and financial complexity of these projects, makes it quite easy for unscrupulous government officials to extract large bribes from those undertaking the projects.
- The impact of corruption in projects goes beyond bribes and fraud, to poor-quality construction and low funding for maintenance. Because much of the infrastructure is hidden behind concrete or brick, builders can cut costs, bribe inspectors to approve sub-standard construction leading to poor quality construction. ( In Quebec, years of this kind of construction on public infrastructure is creating a problem for the province, with crumbling bridges and overpasses that need extensive rehabilitation. Will we see the same thing happen here in British Columbia with some of our major transportation and infrastructure projects? Certainly many projects have already shown evidence of substandard quality, via the expansion joints on the William R Bennett bridge in Kelowna, and the ever collapsing retaining wall on Lougheed, part of the Port Mann project and more recently the sea to sky retaining walls where unapproved substandard rebar was used. – Laila)
- Sources in British Columbia indicated that government officials responsible for the procurement process ( tender and bidding process) lack the required experience in relation to the commercial construction process. Many who did have the experience retired or moved onto the private sector. Government officials often failed to follow their own procurement policies. ( I have explored this in detail on a previous post, where a source revealed to me that often, the officials in charge of a project will rely on employees of a bidding company for direction, via hiring them as a consultant in the process. Fairness reviewers deemed with examining the bid process for fairness, are often seen as being in a perceived conflict via work with the government on other projects- Laila)
It is simply not acceptable, nor is it in the public interest, to allow often incompetent, and more often unethical business practices to continue within the B.C. government. It absolutely must stop.
In 2010, in following final ruling of the decade long Tercon vs. British Columbia court case, I said the following:
“.. What is needed is a full and independent inquiry into the actions of the government then, and now, to reveal the truth of what is going on in that portfolio. If the government intends to stand by its claim of administering an honest and open government with integrity, let it start with the Basi-Virk trial upon our doorstep, and end with the Tercon Judgement. The integrity of the entire bidding process, the future of local industry in our province, and what little faith we may have remaining in our elected officials, depends on it.”
That was 2010. As we know, the Basi-Virk trial was shut down faster than a bear trap snaps its victim, and while Vaughn Palmer picked up the Tercon story, the government denied and ignored any lingering questions.
I say now, that this report bolsters and supports my repeated calls for a full investigation and public inquiry into the public procurement process within all ministries of the government of British Columbia, and the sooner the better.
To do anything other, is to condone corruption within government by our elected officials -a concept which should have never been tolerable in the first place.
Two new bits of news today that will leave you shaking your head, discussion ongoing in the comments on this too:
1) SNC Lavalin & Kiewit among qualified bidders for Patullo bridge replacement
2) SNC Lavalin subject of new criminal probe in bridge project.
Gee. I guess corruption trials and criminal probes dont bother the BC govt crew in the Ministry of Transportation…..