Quebec Construction Industry Corruption Enquiry

Quebec Construction Industry Corruption Enquiry


by Peter Stuart

Well praise the Lord, Jean Charest, after being pestered by the opposition for some ludicrous number of days like 927, (only journalists can keep track of this rot), has finely consented to call a commission of enquiry into corruption in the construction industry in our province. We should be ever so relieved and grateful. 

I’m sure we’ll get right down to the bottom of what ails our civilization, especially since the commission will not have the power to subpoena witnesses, nor will it have the power to grant any of them immunity. Grand. I’m old enough (and jaded enough by now to be perfectly honest), that I do recall that we went through all of this rigmarole already once before in my own lifetime. It was the 1970s, a time of great social, political and economic upheaval in Québec, Canada, and throughout the western world in general. 

The same sorts of concerns about organized crime having penetrated the construction industry, union intimidation and cronyism, were rampant in the media. The whole thing had begun to take on the airs of a three ring media circus. The commission which eventually was struck to shed light on the whole mess was called the Cliche Commission, named after Robert Clichée a well-known judge of the day. 

The proceedings were aired on cable television, something new for that era, and lo and behold, an up and coming lawyer by the name of Brian Mulroney, who would later go on to become Prime Minister of Canada for the Progressive Conservative Party, rose to great prominence by being a panellist on the commission of enquiry on the side of the employers. 

The commission was originally struck to enquire into allegations of violence and intimidation and links to organized crime up in the James Bay area of Québec, where giant hydro dams were being constructed, and the unions were allegedly using strong-arm tactics to coerce many workers to join their ranks against their will. 

What’s ironic is that now, 37 years later, we’re dealing with many of the same issues again, and guess what, Brian Mulroney was eventually disgraced for having taken brown envelopes full of 1000$ bills from a German military contractor by the name of Karl Heinz Schreiber in a hotel room on the eve of his retirement from public life! 

I guess it just goes to show you that there’s no real ‘final solution’. The last guy who proposed that was some whacko Austrian Corporal with a cheesy moustache and a really bad haircut that went and got millions of people killed a while back. So you can’t really say that the situation concerning confidence in public institutions is really getting any worse or better. I think it’s just always been the same. 

I bet the Roman Emperors had to deal with rampant corruption in their construction industry and government during their time. I know for sure that King Solomon had to deal with corruption during the building of the Temple at Jerusalem all those thousands of years ago, and some people even lost their lives over that one. 

So Jean Charest, here’s lookin’ at you kiddo. It doesn’t matter if it took you 927 days or 9027 days to call the enquiry; the fact of the matter is that you did it. Back in the 1970s, the revelations eventually led to the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa being defeated and René Lévesque’s PQ party getting elected and the separatist threat concretizing itself. 

Now however, I see something similar but not quite the same occurring. The commission will probably cause Mr. Charest’s government to get egg on his face, just in time for him to retire gracefully from politics, and let an interim leader take a hit for the team in the next election. In the meantime, François Legault has vowed to turn his CAQ organization (Coalition pour l’Avenir du Québec) into a real political party by mid November, just in time to gear up for an election next fall in 2012, when all the fallout from the commission will have discredited the Liberals and chased them from any hope of getting a third term. 

This will position Legault to get in, shutting out Pauline Marois and the separatists, wind up the commission, table its report, make an attempt at implementing its recommendations, then getting on with the business of governing. (Or is that supposed to be the business of business?). 

Either way you slice it, life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone, as John Mellencamp once sang. Brian Mulroney and the Cliche Commission may be long gone, and Jean Charest and his commission may soon be gone to the dustbin of history sooner than we think. But people must still nevertheless compose with the moral imperative of living upright and spiritual lives in a fallen and profane world. Let’s hope that we as citizens can do better than those that we’ve elected, hoping and trusting that they’ll do the right thing.

About the author:

Peter Stuart is a freelance journalist and writer based in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. He has a degree in Canadian Studies from the University of Ottawa.
He has written Op-Ed pieces for the last ten years for publications including: Le Soleil, La Presse, Quebec Chronicle Telegraph and Impact Campus.
Peter writes in both French and English, and is currently working on the publication of his first book. 
You can read more of Peter’s work by visiting his blog.

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