Bill 61: corruption and collusion likely to return, researchers say

The economic recovery bill will create favorable conditions for the return of corruption and collusion, warns the Public Committee to follow up on the recommendations of the Charbonneau Commission. In their brief, which will be presented at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, this committee of four researchers takes a hard look at the initiative of the Legault government.

Bill 61, according to the group, “creates extremely favorable conditions for the emergence of corruption, collusion and other related embezzlement. The increase in the number of emergency projects and the extraordinary powers the government would have are among the factors that would weaken the gains made in the wake of the Charbonneau Commission.

The Committee is sounding the alarm: this bill “goes against all the good practices of sound management of public procurement by significantly increasing the factors conducive to behavior harmful to the integrity of public procurement. He calls on the government to withdraw article 50 described by the opposition parties as a real step backwards.

“Listen, there is nobody, I think, in Quebec who wants to relive contracts with boyfriends,” defended Prime Minister François Legault at a press conference. “We went through the Charbonneau commission and all the corruption in construction, there is no one who wants to go back there. “

He said he was open Tuesday to extend parliamentary proceedings to allow the adoption of the economic recovery bill, while consultations on this initiative are taking place at an accelerated speed. The government wanted to pass this omnibus bill tabled last week before the summer break.

“I know the session was supposed to end on Friday,” said Legault at a press conference. What I want to say to the three opposition parties is that if it is necessary to extend it in order to be able to pass this bill and then get people back to work, Quebecers to work quickly , we’re ready to do it. “

The parliamentary committee was extended by one day Wednesday at the request of opposition parties so that elected officials can finally hear the Auditor General, Guylaine Leclerc, and the Barreau du Québec. The latter had not been able to free themselves for the first two days of consultation because of the tight schedule.

Bill 61 aims to accelerate 202 infrastructure projects across Quebec – Seniors’ homes, CHSLDs, hospitals, elementary or secondary schools, road repairs and public transportation projects – to stimulate the Quebec economy, which is hard hit. by the pandemic.

“The idea is not to reduce requirements,” said Mr. Legault. The idea is to reduce time, save months. “

“When there is a road, when there is a hospital, there is the expropriation process which can take up to 18 months, there is the environmental authorization process which can take up to 11 months, he added. Then there are all the authorizations for land use planning, we add another two, three months. “

There is an urgent need to act, he said, so as not to miss the construction season this summer. The government is awaiting amendments from opposition parties.

No turning back

For the Public Procurement Authority (AMP), this bill will not constitute a step backwards. The oversight body created to respond to the first recommendation of the Charbonneau Commission took a more nuanced look than the Public Committee following up on the recommendations of the Charbonneau Commission during its testimony in parliamentary committee.

“Section 50, for us, can have very laudable goals, it can be quite useful,” said AMP interim president and chief executive officer Nathaly Marcoux.

Opposition parties fear that this section of the bill will lead to abuses similar to those exposed in the open during the Charbonneau commission. This article would allow the government to derogate from the Act respecting contracts of public bodies (LCOP) to conclude over-the-counter contracts. He would no longer have to abide by the lowest bidder rule.

The AMP nonetheless expressed serious reservations about the scope of this article, which would not offer all the necessary assurances. It must not compromise the main principles of transparency, healthy competition and fairness which are at the heart of the award of public contracts, according to Ms. Marcoux. The watchdog called on the government to clarify it and not “release the guard” at a time when more vigilance is needed.

The organization believes it has enough means to carry out its mission, but claims powers of verification and investigation, like those of the Office of the Inspector General of the City of Montreal. “It would be this power to be able to address companies, sub-contractors, witnesses to ask them to answer our questions and not just public bodies,” said Ms. Marcoux.

The Inspector General of the City of Montreal, Me Brigitte Bishop, must testify in the afternoon, as does the former director of the City of Montreal Police Service and current Inspector General of the City of Saint-Jérôme, Jacques Duchesneau . The testimony of the Committee to follow up on the Charbonneau Commission’s recommendations was relegated late at 9:45 p.m. The testimony of the Bureau of Public Hearings on the Environment (BAPE) which would be directly affected by the bill also been scheduled in the evening.

The government wants, among other things, to speed up popular consultations prior to BAPE environmental assessments. In their testimony on Tuesday morning, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Équiterre organization expressed several reservations about this bill.

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