It was a year ago this week the Charest government created UPAC (Unité permanente anticorruption) to crack down on corruption and collusion relating to public contracts. The supersquad’s anniversary is a good time to try to make sense of the piecemeal bits of information about the overall police effort.
Here’s what we know.
–UPAC has so far made no arrests of significance.
To be sure, given the difficult nature of corruption probes, one year might be too short a time to expect boffo results. But bear in mind that UPAC is a coalition of previously separate investigative teams, and the province created the largest of these, Opération Marteau (Hammer), in October 2009. (Marteau now comprises 73 of UPAC’s 170 members.) Marteau has made no high-profile arrests either before or after its integration into UPAC. We can say, then, that the Quebec’s unimpressive overall anti-corruption fight spans 2½ years.
(This is not to say there have been no arrests at all. The one making the most news was that of MNA Tony Tomassi last October on fraud charges. But this was hardly an example of police prowess: journalists had done much of the spadework. The ex-mayor of Outremont and two senior borough officials, plus the ex-mayor of Boisbriand, have also been arrested, but again, their alleged misbehaviour had been well-aired in the media. Additional arrests have been of small fish.)
–The team that has had the most success so far is the small, two-yearold anti-collusion unit that Jacques Duchesneau, Montreal’s ex-police chief, originally headed. It has been demoralized and nine of its original 19 members have departed.
Duchesneau’s explosive report last September (it was completed just before UPAC absorbed him and his team) confirmed journalistic reports of widespread illegalities involving Transport Quebec’s contracts. The report helped pressure Premier Jean Charest into appointing (with evident reluctance) a public inquiry into corruption.
UPAC fired Duchesneau last fall after he told a reporter UPAC was “not strong.”
–The law-enforcement record is particularly disappointing in cases involving Montreal. There at least five such cases.
2007: The Sûreté du Québec opens a probe into a case involving Outremont, the construction of a new community centre by a major contractor, Dessau. Its cost had risen from $6.6 million to $12 million. Marteau, which is composed mostly of SQ officers, subsequently took over this probe as well as the ones below.
2009: The SQ investigates a finding by Montreal’s auditor general, Michel Doyon, that shortly after the city’s housing agency, the SHDM, was privatized it undersold city property that was worth about $300 million.
2009: The SQ investigates a finding by the new auditor general, Jacques Bergeron, that the city paid too much for a $355-million waterworks contract that had been awarded after a questionable tendering process.
a questionable tendering process. 2009: The SQ investigates a contractor’s complaint that a mafioso told him to pay bribes to two city councillors to keep a contract to repair city hall’s roof.
2010: The SQ investigates a contract between the city and Telus for an upgrade of the municipal phone system.
La Presse reported in December that police say the Outremont probe is at a standstill (“point mort”). I asked UPAC on Wednesday how other cases were faring. The answer: No comment. A spokesperson explained that to say anything about the probes, even to say whether or not they were in an active mode, might “harm” them.
This is hardly a way to build public confidence.
–Duchesneau said in September that contractors’ donations to politicians’ elections are at the heart of sleaze disease. His report, based on 500 unidentified sources, describes how contractors kick back some profits from inflated contracts to politicians’ campaigns. It also tells of so-called “clé en main” elections in 10 unnamed municipalities. (Under this technique, a contract-coveting company will run an ultra-slick election campaign for a mayoral candidate; if he wins, the politician then steers juicy public contracts to the company.)
It’s the job of Quebec’s Directeur Général des Élections, Jacques Drouin, to fight these practices. Yet he has not got “enough information from (Duchesneau) to start an investigation,” a spokesperson tells me. Drouin has had almost six months to get it. He and UPAC’s boss, Robert Lafrénière, have yet to meet.
One of the senior members of Duchesneau’s anti-collusion squad told me months ago that UPAC was out to “cover up” or downplay the true extent of corruption. I think it’s too early to draw such a bleak conclusion.
But, given the absence so far of significant arrests or even of hustle, it’s an interesting hypothesis.