Don’t keep penalizing all Quebec engineers and builders

Opinion letter by Yves-Thomas Dorval President & CEO Quebec Employers Council
The Gazette, p. A21 – September 19, 2014
The Sherbrooke Record, p. 6 – September 23, 2014

yves-thomas-dorval_150pxAnyone with even a passing interest in the news might be led to believe that the 26,000 or so construction and engineering companies that are active in Quebec are up to their collective necks in collusion and corruption to land public contracts.

But this is a distorted generalization, and it’s extremely important to establish a distinction between the objectionable deeds of certain individuals and the actions of the companies that employ them, and even more so those companies that have never done anything wrong.

People found guilty of fraud must be brought to justice and held accountable for their actions. No doubt about it. But we have to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or — to use another metaphor — tarring everyone with the same brush. Most employees that are on public contracts in the engineering and construction industries work every day in an honest, upstanding manner; and they certainly don’t deserve to pay for those whose conduct has breached ethics and integrity.

And it’s not only the construction industry that is a victim of this state of inquisition. A survey conducted last December by the Quebec association of consulting engineers revealed that there had been a 20-per-cent drop in consulting-engineering employment in 2013 — some of which was the result of dismissals or voluntary departures related to the collusion and corruption revelations.

As a society, it would thus seem essential for Quebec to not only have the companies and entrepreneurs whose conduct was unethical and unscrupulous in terms of public contracts pay proper compensatory damage, but also to have the public sector maintain an open, transparent and pragmatic dialogue with its suppliers.

This is why the government, while applying the rules, norms and procedures that meet the highest standards of governance, integrity and ethics, must avoid increasing or extending companies’ administrative burdens. Meanwhile, there is growing talk of major problems regarding unacceptable delays in receiving payment from many public institutions when there are legitimate additional expenses or when delays in approval occur.

Many sectors of economic activity that conduct business with the government have changed the way they do business and their processes. These companies have instituted strict rules regarding ethics and transparency, many of which, incidentally, have been praised by external auditors.

Unfortunately, with the various ongoing police investigations, it’s inevitable that other instances of collusion and corruption will be publicly brought to light during the coming months. The regulations to encourage higher ethics, integrity and sound governance that provincial and municipal governments have implemented in the last few years have made a difference.

The Conseil du patronat believes we now need to move forward. After organizing a conference on the issue of public contracts last spring, the Conseil will also be hosting a breakfast-conference on Friday of this week, with the participation of Treasury Board chair Martin Coiteux, and ethicist René Villemure.

Quebec’s engineers and builders, from the days of the Quiet Revolution, have been a source of pride for all Quebecers, at the local, national and international levels. It would really be a shame to see many of these outstanding people having to wear a millstone around their necks that would slow down their future growth and development. In our opinion, we should instead seize the opportunity to support these players, who make an undeniable contribution to our overall prosperity and standard of living.

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