Ottawa’s reaction to Mafia control over infrastructure money: silence

“We have a huge problem in Alberta, in British Columbia, now organized crime is spreading all over the country,” Nicaso said. “The government — any kind of government, any colour — have never shown any political will or any political commitment to fight organized crime.” And a public inquiry would serve to establish once and for all the connections between the mob and Canada’s political and business elements, Nicaso said.

http://www.thespec.com
October 16, 2009

Ottawa’s reaction to Mafia control over infrastructure money: silence
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Reports of extensive Mafia control over infrastructure spending is prompting calls for a public inquiry into ties between government, business, and organized crime.

Antonio Nicaso says he hopes Ottawa will be moved to act by riveting accounts of how the Italian mob gobbles up public money in Montreal, because he says the problem exists nationwide.

The report comes as Ottawa and provincial governments embark on a multibillion-dollar flurry of infrastructure spending that is the most expensive in the country’s history.

Quebec’s opposition parties are calling for an inquiry at the provincial level, and municipal politicians say one might be necessary if police confirm allegations of rampant corruption.

Despite all the public money at stake, the author of several books on the Mafia said he doubts any government in Canada, at any level, will delve into the organized-crime issue.

Nicaso told the Canadian Press that no Canadian government has ever shown a desire to look into “this grey area where criminals, politicians and businessmen get together for different reasons.

“I don’t think in Canada there is political will or commitment to fight organized crime,” Nicaso said. “The problem has been here for so long and they’ve never taken action or addressed the problem in the right way.”

Early reactions proved him correct.

The federal NDP refused to comment on the issue. Two spokespeople for the federal Liberals never returned a call and email. And the governing Tories refused to get involved.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan offered the following government response: “We do not interfere with the affairs of the provinces, including whether they should call inquiries into matters of their jurisdiction.”

A report on the French-language network of the CBC cites a bureaucrat-turned-whistleblower who claims Montreal’s Italian Mafia controls 80 per cent of contracts doled out in road construction in the city.

The practice reportedly results in inflated, overpriced construction projects paid for with public infrastructure tax dollars.

Radio-Canada’s investigative news program Enquete also interviewed members of the construction industry who reportedly confirmed the practice, and described threats of violence against those who opposed.

They said bosses of the city’s so-called Fabulous 14 construction companies would collude to pick the winner of every public infrastructure tendering process.

Radio Canada quoted Paul Sauvé, president of the Montreal masonry firm LM Sauvé, as saying those 14 firms would essentially take turns winning contracts and shut out his company and others.

One member of the consortium would submit a bid at an artificially high price — then nobody else would submit a cheaper bid, ensuring that different companies could take their turn at the public trough.

The bids were passed along by telephone, often using a code based on golf.

“We’ll start on the fourth hole, we’ll be a party of nine,” an instruction would go. The code meant the contractor pretending to set up the game would submit the winning bid, just below $4.9 million.

Construction bosses who resisted were threatened and ordered to comply, the report said.

Such price-fixing and collusion has driven up the price of infrastructure contracts in the Montreal region by 35 per cent higher than they should cost, the Radio-Canada report said.

The report arrives as the federal government and the provinces, driven by a desire to jolt a moribund economy, prepare to shower unprecedented billions on construction projects.

Quebec, for instance, has begun its largest-ever infrastructure program with $42 billion to be spent over five years on everything from hydroelectric projects to roads and bridges.

But Nicaso says corruption is rife across the country, not just Quebec.

“We have a huge problem in Alberta, in British Columbia, now organized crime is spreading all over the country,” Nicaso said. “The government — any kind of government, any colour — have never shown any political will or any political commitment to fight organized crime.”

And a public inquiry would serve to establish once and for all the connections between the mob and Canada’s political and business elements, Nicaso said.

The report quoted François Beaudry, a former senior engineer at the Quebec Transport Ministry, as saying the Mafia controls what happens in Montreal relating to road construction.

One kilometre of road cost 37 per cent more to build in Quebec in 2008 than the average cost for the rest of the country, according to a recent Transport Canada study.

Urban roads cost 46 per cent more to build in Quebec, while rural roads cost 26 per cent more.

The Quebec Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association said in a statement that it found the reports worrisome. It said it was persuaded that only a small number of firms were involved.

The association does not want a public inquiry.

It says a police investigation is underway, and that it would offer a more complete picture than a hasty rush to judgment.

Quebec’s construction industry has come under scrutiny before.

The Cliché Commission in the mid-1970s set up by premier Robert Bourassa found Mafia infiltration of the unions and corruption in the construction industry that extended to political aides.

While Quebec provincial police are currently investigating, there have been calls from municipal and provincial politicians alike for an immediate inquiry.

“We need a public inquiry before the all the money that we want to invest in our infrastructure is spent,” said Sylvie Roy, acting leader of the Action démocratique du Québec.

Several municipal politicians have also endorsed the idea of an inquiry. But the Quebec government said it wants to wait for police to finish its work.

http://www.thespec.com/article/655019


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