Business As Usual?

By December 28, 2013Hot Topic, Mike Archer

By Mike Archer. Whether or not the corruption we have recently witnessed in Québec is endemic to that society is a question we ought to be asking right now … as the dances which will shape the country after the 2015 federal election are just beginning.

Québec will play a crucial role in the 2015 federal election and an understanding of the role corruption plays in public and political life in the province is important as the three main federal parties begin making their pitches.

Back in 1974 former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney cut his teeth on the Cliche Commission which investigated violence and corruption in Québec’s unions.

The dilapidated and crumbling concrete freeway system in Québec has long been blamed on inferior building materials and shoddy construction by a construction industry alleged to have the inside political track on provincial contracts.

Mulroney’s scandal plagued government saw Public Works minister, Roch La Salle selling off taxpayer owned real estate, moving departments out of buildings owned by taxpayers and collecting kickbacks for government leases.

The LA Times reported, “[charges against] 13 senior members and former members of Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government and three top law enforcement officials, charging that they conspired to take kickbacks or to cover up a system of kickbacks in the government.”

The Liberal government of Paul Martin fell largely as a result of the kickback scheme revealed as part of the Sponsorship Scandal whereby taxpayers’ money was funneled back through a variety of well placed Québec firms to Liberal Party coffers.

You will pardon the cynicism but, with Québec’s long track record in the field of corruption in business and politics, it is perhaps more likely the Liberal’s were punished for not spreading the wealth around but taking it all back into their own party coffers.

In 2013 we witnessed the almost complete unraveling of the system of municipal government on the island of Montreal from the top down as, one after another, Montreal’s mayors, top administrators and politicians fell to charges of corruption and involvement with mobsters and construction companies.

We also witnessed the embarrassing revelations of corruption at the top of one of the crown jewels of Québec’s business community – SNC-Lavelin – in its bribery-filled international business strategy.

Perhaps the only reason the Harper government’s scandals are all focused on the Prime Minister’s Office and the Senate has more to do with the fact he has virtually no Québec MPs to become involved in any scandal.

After all, you have to have some actual political clout before anyone will consider investing any serious scandal money in your retirement plan and clout is one thing the Conservatives are lacking in Québec.

The notion that Québec voters punished Liberal Party for corruption is laughable and a dangerous conclusion at which to arrive if one is trying to understand the real dynamics of politics in the province.

Companies other than SNC-Lavelin have long argued they must engage in certain activities which would be frowned upon at home when they are operating in foreign countries where, it is said, corruption is rampant and even ‘the way’ business is done.

The same is now being said of Québec.

“Are the problems in Quebec more severe than the rest of Canada? My impression is yes,” Watergate investigator Michael Hershman said of the province’s problems with corruption in Friday’s Financial Post.

According to Hershman as related in The Post, “The bribery allegations that have enveloped SNC over the past two years are, ‘indicative of a culture of corruption that has grown around Quebec and has become ingrained and accepted.’”

Though the author of the Post article, Nicolas Van Praet, makes the point that The Parti Quebcois government is doing anything but shrugging off the corruption in the province, the libraries are filled with commissions, studies and reports on corruption in Québec from the Maurice Duplessis years right up to today. Commissions, studies and reports don’t seem to have much of an impact on a problem which seems so ingrained in the culture it is simply known as the way things are done.

The players may change each decade with new revelations but the game, it appears, goes on.

Ever since the Québec electorate realized that it’s power within the federation was dimished, not increased, by supporting the Bloc Québecois instead of the party in power, Québec voters have let it be known their support is, once again, available to the national parties.

Since Harper and his Alberta extremists have never been trusted in Quebec that leaves only the NDP and the Liberals to divvy up the Quebec vote.

With two national parties vying for the block of Québec seats currently held by the NDP, and formerly owned by the Liberals, we should pay close attention to the deals being made for political support in the province. The seeds of the next decade’s Québec corruption scandals may be being sewn as we speak.

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