Reimburse taxpayers, then turn the page

Opinion letter by Yves-Thomas Dorval, President & CEO, Quebec Employers Council

Montreal Gazette, p. 21 – January 21, 2015

Since the National Assembly’s Committee on Institutions began its hearings, many employer and construction sector organizations have participated, lending their support to some of the objectives of Bill 26, which would allow public organizations to recover money improperly taken due to fraud or improprieties in the tendering of public contracts.

But, at the same time, almost all of these organizations have underlined the importance of turning the page and moving on.

From the outset of the collusion and corruption allegations in the construction industry, employers have stressed the need to implement targeted and effective measures.

Successive governments have since introduced several measures to address the issue: the creation of a permanent anti-corruption squad; setting up a public inquiry commission; the government tightened its regulations pertaining to the awarding and managing of public contracts, ended the union placement system and revised regulations on political party funding; municipalities restructured their policies and the Autorité des marchés financiers, the financial market regulator, received new powers.

Meanwhile, companies conducted a housecleaning of their personnel, improved their business practices and heightened their level of vigilance and intolerance of unethical conduct. The code of silence was broken with all of the revelations by investigative media, and the culture of influence peddling that prevailed in certain areas of the construction and consulting-engineering industry withered along with it.

Now it’s imperative that there be a renewal of confidence and the development of a framework that promotes an open, transparent and pragmatic dialogue between contractors and suppliers and, by the same token, the fostering of an open-competition environment that would be profitable for everyone.

We, unfortunately, don’t talk much about it, but the reputation of many companies and employees that conducted themselves with honesty and integrity have paid for those who acted with impropriety.

Who’s going to restore their reputation, which was sullied because of an endless stream of dubious presumptions and wrongful associations? A few more months of this systematic denigration and it wouldn’t take much for any company in the construction or consulting-engineering sector to automatically come under suspicion.

And while Quebec companies are staggering under the weight of increased paperwork and more accountability, we are, in effect, tossing our public markets to the lions, in the form of a ferocious international competition.

It’s time we realized Quebec companies are fighting an uphill battle due to the overall increasing of their administrative burden. Illustrious companies that were once the pride of a province of builders, ambitious firms ever mindful of the international exposure emanating from their know-how, are endangered.

Canada will be making huge investments in the coming years, with much infrastructure reaching the end of its usefulness. We need to move forward.

Might the achievements that will be the pride of future generations be the legacy of local companies? Are we going to provide them with the opportunity to preserve high-quality jobs, to maintain their head offices in Québec and to safeguard an entire supply chain, as well as designers and suppliers?

This isn’t a matter of favouritism; it’s simply being able to put Quebec companies in a position to fight on equal footing. Then, may the best one win!

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