Oct 18, 2012
The enclosed lengthy dossier of news articles provides a cursory overview of some of the big issues in Quebec politics today. I hope that readers find this dossier informative. The are numbered by subject:
1. PQ and sovereignty/foreign policy
2. Plan Nord (Northern Plan)
3. Police violence during student strike
4. Construction industry scandal
1. Marois takes aim at Harper’s foreign policy in speech
By Sophie Cousineau, Globe and Mail, Oct 17, 2012
After proclaiming that Quebec should speak in its own voice, Pauline Marois criticized Stephen Harper’s international outlook as foreign to Quebeckers’ values in a speech delivered in Paris to an audience of diplomats, elected officials, and students.
“Quebeckers no longer recognize themselves in Canada’s foreign policy, which has turned its back to a tradition of openness, mediation, and multilateralism,” Ms. Marois said on Tuesday during a half-hour address at the French Institute for International Relations. Ms. Marois said the death of the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas emissions perfectly symbolizes this: Quebeckers expected more ambitious emission reductions, while Ottawa pressed for more lenient targets.
In her speech, Ms. Marois praised former Liberal prime minister Lester B. Pearson as the creator of a peacekeeping force and the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in settling the Suez canal crisis. “He inspired Canada’s foreign policy for 50 years,” she added.
Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and a former Conservative cabinet member, was in attendance. Asked if he found it ironic that a sovereigntist premier would cite a Canadian prime minister as a model, he chose instead to underscore what he saw as contradictions in her remarks.
Ms. Marois praised Europe’s political construction as able to balance the tension between the individual states’ desire to preserve their autonomy and the need to find common tools to deal with the public debt crisis. “In the European Union, each state voluntarily constrains the scope of its policies and its capacity to make its own decisions,” Ms. Marois said in response to a question. “But at the same time, each country remains sovereign for most of the important policies it aspires to enact.”
Mr. Blackburn said Ms. Marois was, in essence, speaking out of both sides of her mouth. “On the one side, we saw her defend the European community, and on the other, advocate the separation of Quebec,” he said.
Ms. Marois’s assertiveness in France is a departure from the restraint she showed in Kinshasa at the Francophonie summit last weekend. This was her first trip abroad since she was sworn in as Quebec Premier a month ago. She qualified her Saturday meeting with Mr. Harper as “very cordial” and “almost warm.”
More telling, she did not utter a word when Ottawa shot down the idea that Francophonie countries recommend that Africa have a designated seat at the United Nations Security Council. Ms. Marois had publicly stated that she is sympathetic to this demand from African countries.
When asked about her apparent change in tone, Ms. Marois said she had not shifted her party’s position. “These are things we said while we were in opposition, and we haven’t changed our minds,” she said.
Ms. Marois continued her high-level meetings on Tuesday. After she met with President François Hollande on Monday, she saw Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici. A long-time aficionado of Quebec, Mr. Moscovici went out of his way to meet Ms. Marois just as he was about to present his budget to the National Assembly. The two spoke of the free trade talks between Canada and Europe, negotiations for which are in their final stretch in Brussels.
In a press conference at Bercy, the Finance Minister’s headquarters, Mr. Moscovici confirmed that France and Quebec are allies on two issues they deem crucial: the protection of French culture through a “cultural exemption” and the limitation of actions companies can take against governments under a free trade deal. “Since our parties share the same concerns, we are extremely close,” Mr. Moscovici stated.
“Free trade can be the worst or the best of things,” the Finance Minister added, before saying that he was both “optimistic and watchful” of talks under way.
Ms. Marois will cap her threeday visit in France on Wednesday with a breakfast meeting with French executives who head affiliates in Quebec.
2. Marois eyes mining tax credits for Plan Nord
By Sophie Cousineau, Globe and Mail, Oct 18, 2012
During Quebec’s electoral campaign, Pauline Marois criticized the Plan Nord, intimately associated with her Liberal predecessor Jean Charest, for its generosity toward private companies. But now that the Parti Québécois Premier is courting French investors in Paris, helping out mining companies no longer looks like such a bad idea.
The PQ government is thinking of introducing new tax credits to attract mining projects to the Plan Nord territory, which encompasses all of Quebec north of the 49th parallel. “This is an avenue we could choose,” Ms. Marois said during the press conference that ended her threeday mission in France.
But there is a catch. To be eligible for these tax credits, companies would have to locally process the minerals extracted. “It is an exchange of friendly services,” said Ms. Marois, who wishes to put the PQ’s imprint on the Liberal program. “But we are pressing on with the North’s development,” she assured.
These new tax credits would be similar in form to the ones that Quebec used to create a multimedia and video game hub in Montreal, Ms. Marois explained. They translated into a fixed amount of money per employee hired on an annual basis.
These tax credits bear the signature of Bernard Landry, a former PQ premier who was finance minister at the time. And his successor Nicolas Marceau has long said he considers them as an astute way of creating skilled jobs and boosting the economy.
Introduced by Mr. Charest in 2011 as a grand social and economic plan to occupy the province’s North and harness its abundant resources, the Plan Nord forecasts $80-billion in private and public investments over the next 25 years. These investments would create or maintain 20,000 jobs a year, according to government estimates.
But the election of Ms. Marois has cast some doubts on the deployment of these investments. During the electoral campaign, the PQ promised to change the mining regime, making royalties more onerous to companies. The PQ also wants to make public investments in roads or other infrastructure needed for industrial projects contingent on Quebec obtaining some form of equity in return.
Ms. Marois, who has gone out of her way not to say “Plan Nord” since she got elected, used the politically coloured name twice in front of journalists in Paris. But she played down the change in vocabulary. “It never was taboo,” she said.
Nonetheless, the Plan Nord, as well as the free-trade deal between Canada and Europe along with Quebec’s fiscal environment, were hot topics when Ms. Marois delivered a speech to French multinational executives at the headquarters of the Mouvement des Entreprises de France, the most important business lobby in the country. The meeting, which was attended by 20 business leaders from French giants active in Quebec (Alstom, EADS, Lafarge, Thales, Total, Ubisoft, among others), was closed to the media.
“These executives all have a fairly good knowledge of Quebec, but they wanted to get a better handle on the economic orientations of the new government. Many of them hope to land public works and infrastructure contracts in the province,” said Pierre Dufour, senior executive vice-president of Air Liquide Group, who was in attendance. “They came out greatly reassured,” Mr. Dufour added.
The fiscal reforms that have stirred so much controversy in Quebec were also discussed, said Jean-François Lisée, International Relations and External Trade Minister. “The talks were frank, direct and pragmatic.”
While the PQ has decided to increase taxes for the province’ highest-income earners, it has not signalled that it would increase the burden imposed on businesses since Pauline Marois was sworn in a month ago. “Our taxation remains advantageous for businesses,” Ms. Marois noted.
Aboriginal Women Speak Out Against Plan Nord
Danielle Rudnicka-Lavoie, The Link (Concordia University), October 2, 2012
Now that Pauline Marois’s Parti Québécois government is in power, the growing uneasiness about what will come of former Premier Jean Charest’s Plan Nord project is palpable.
Slated to take 25 years and $80 billion in investments to complete, the Plan Nord was Charest’s audacious and much-criticized economic plan. The project boasts the potential to create 20,000 jobs in the province by industrializing the north of Quebec through ore mining, to be carried out on 1.2 million km2 of area north of the 49th parallel—land occupied by First Nations such as the Cree and the Innu.
“I hope Mme. Marois will not follow the path of Jean Charest and see that the land is worth something more without a building on it because within it are the medicines, the water, the fish, the purity of nature,” said Ellen Gabriel, First Nations rights activist and former president of the Quebec Native Women’s Association.
Gabriel and two other panelists spoke on Sept. 28 at Defending the Land: Indigenous Women’s Resistance to Plan Nord and Community Violence. The forum was organized by Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy in collaboration with Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a grassroots collective that aims to raise awareness about violence against First Nations women living in Quebec.
“The Plan Nord is going to affect women in the way that we raise our children, the way we transmit our values, our traditions and our history. If we have no land, how can we make references to such things?” said Denise Jourdain, panelist and primary school teacher in the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam in Sept-Îles, QC.
Jourdain was one of the 12 women imprisoned earlier this year during the Route 138 blockade protesting the construction of the Hydro-Québec Romaine dam in Havre-Saint-Pierre. “It changes your perception of the question,” said Jourdain. “When you know that your ancestors went to prison to defend their land rights, it’s nothing compared to what they went through.”
“When I was imprisoned, that’s when an immense anger came to me. I hadn’t killed anyone; I hadn’t stolen anyone’s land. It’s Hydro-Québec that destroyed the territory.” —Élise Vallant
The Romaine dam complex is slated to be built on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, located north of Anticosti Island, and will pass through Innu territory.
“I was not consulted by Charest,” said Élise Vallant, mother of eight children also from the Uashat mak Mani-Utenam who was also arrested and detained during the blockade of Route 138. “Most Innu people were not consulted directly.”
“When I was imprisoned, that’s when an immense anger came to me. I hadn’t killed anyone; I hadn’t stolen anyone’s land. It’s Hydro-Québec that destroyed the territory.”
Mining strategies undertaken by the provincial government were highly criticized during the forum—and not just for environmental reasons.
“Mining activity is probably one of the worst abusers of human rights,” said Gabriel.
In the James Bay area, Quebecois workers were completely separated from First Nations communities by roadblocks in order to protect those living there.
“It’s terror that we will leave to future generations by always saying, ‘Stay at home, because if you go out you might get raped,’” said Vallant. “Worry is not a way of life to raise kids in.”
A 2005 paper published in Pimatisiwin, an Alberta-based aboriginal health journal, states that the stressful nature of mining jobs, often coupled with substance abuse, may result in violence towards women in those communities. “Violence against aboriginal women happens five times more than any other group in Canada,” said Gabriel. “Mining companies come in and look at aboriginal women as if they can violate them. It happens today and happens all over the world. And it has to stop.”
Seventh Annual Sisters in Spirit Memorial March and Vigil / Oct. 4 / Place Émilie-Gamelin (Corner Berri St. and Ste. Catherine St. E.) / 6:00 p.m.
Plan Nord, Plan Mâle (‘Northern Plan, Male Plan, Bad Plan’)
The following article, in French, reports on critical questions about the Plan Nord being raised by the Quebec Council on the Status of Women, including the lack of access of jobs for women in the natural resource industries and the sexual abuse and violence that the construction and mining industries bring into remote, Aborigical communities. The latter includes how the sexual exploitation industry draw girls and young women out of school. The title of the article is a certain play on words; I have translated it as best I can.–RA
Le projet nordique pourrait creuser encore davantage le fossé entre les sexes, selon le Conseil du statut de la femme.
Amélie Daoust-Boisvert, Le Devoir, 18 oct 2012 http://www.ledevoir.com/societe/actualites-en-societe/361729/plan-nord-plan-male
Le Conseil du statut de la femme (CSF) exhorte Québec d’agir afin que le Plan Nord soit autre chose qu’un projet par les hommes, pour les hommes. Des indices portent déjà à croire que le développement économique nordique pourrait creuser encore davantage le fossé entre les sexes, écrit le CSF dans un avis publié aujourd’hui, jeudi.
Que récolteront les femmes dans le sillage du Plan Nord ? Trop souvent, les emplois les moins bien rémunérés – femme de chambre, préposée à l’entretien ménager, secrétaire. La violence sexuelle et le décrochage scolaire sont d’autres conséquences craintes par le CSF.
Sa présidente, Julie Miville-Dechêne, reste prudente : elle ne prétend pas lire dans une boule de cristal. Mais les témoignages qu’elle a recueillis lui font entrevoir des risques réels. « Il serait trop dommage que le Plan Nord creuse les inégalités », a-t-elle confié dans un entretien avec Le Devoir. « Il y a moyen d’agir maintenant », selon elle.
L’équipe du CSF, dont la chercheuse Nathalie Roy et Mme Miville-Dechêne elle-même, a enquêté dans ces communautés reculées où débarquent les nouveaux chercheurs d’or et de métaux. Ce qu’elles y ont trouvé les préoccupe au plus haut point. Certains indices laissent entendre que les jeunes pourraient quitter l’école secondaire pour occuper des emplois bien rémunérés sur les chantiers et dans les mines, écrit le CSF.
Selon le Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (CALACS) de La Pointe du jour de Sept-Îles et de Port-Cartier, des adolescents, alléchés par les salaires élevés, quittent les bancs d’école sans diplôme.
Le directeur des services éducatifs de la commission scolaire de la Moyenne-Côte-Nord rapporte que les entreprises recrutent des élèves de plus en plus jeunes.
Mais la problématique la plus criante reste celle de la violence sexuelle.
Élyse Vollant, une femme innue de Maliotenam, sur la Côte-Nord, rapportait récemment lors d’une conférence à Montréal que l’histoire des viols de deux de ses consoeurs à Schefferville l’a bouleversée.
Selon le CSF, on voit apparaître un commerce de services sexuels dans les localités voisines du chantier de la Romaine. On apprend aussi que des adolescentes font appel au CALACS après avoir été « ramassées par des adultes » qui les ont droguées pour mieux en abuser.
« On ne prétend pas avoir de chiffres, seulement des témoignages », dit Mme Miville-Dechêne. Elle demande à Québec de lancer une étude sur la question afin de trouver des solutions.
Défi de recrutement
Ici, peu de femmes conduisent de la machinerie lourde ou descendent dans les entrailles de la Terre : environ le tiers des emplois miniers étaient occupés par des femmes en 2006. Il y a moins d’une femme sur 100 employés dans le secteur de l’extraction proprement dit.
« Il ne faut pas juste se dire qu’elles ne sont pas intéressées, croit Mme Miville-Dechêne. En plus, tous ceux à qui j’ai parlé m’ont dit que les femmes sont de meilleures conductrices de véhicules lourds, qu’elles sont plus prudentes. On pourrait offrir des formations ciblées dans les communautés autochtones, pourquoi pas ! » Formation, environnement de travail sécuritaire et accueillant, logement, garderies : les entreprises doivent faire un effort pour attirer une main-d’oeuvre féminine.
Mme Miville-Dechêne croit que Québec pourrait s’inspirer de Terre-Neuve, qui demande aux entreprises du secteur des ressources naturelles de se doter de programmes d’équité en emploi.
En tout, le CSF formule 14 recommandations, qui vont d’une plus grande représentation féminine dans les processus décisionnels à la construction de logements. Pour Julie Miville-Dechêne, « il faut aussi responsabiliser les entreprises qui viennent faire des profits avec le sous-sol québécois ».
«Il faut que ça change»
La Commission de la construction du Québec dénonce le difficile accès des femmes au milieu de la construction. « Il faut que ça change, a lancé la présidente de la CCQ, Diane Lemieux. La question de l’accès des femmes aux chantiers de construction et de leur maintien en emploi dans ce secteur en est une de droit, de justice, d’équité et de nécessité pour l’industrie de la construction. »
En 1996, l’industrie s’était engagée à porter à 2 % la représentation des femmes sur ses chantiers sur un horizon de 10 ans. « Quinze ans plus tard, la proportion des femmes actives dans l’industrie de la construction atteint 1,3 % », dénonce la CCQ.
Selon la CCQ, seulement 7 % des 25 000 employeurs de la construction embauchent des femmes. Ces dernières sont deux fois plus nombreuses que les hommes à abandonner le métier, et 52 % de celles qui l’ont fait disent avoir vécu de la discrimination.
Pour Karyne Prégent, responsable de la condition féminine pour la CSN-Construction, ces données viennent « confirmer la discrimination systémique que nous voyons sur les chantiers ».
3. Officer 728 a lightning rod in Montreal
Cop with fondness for rough methods seen as symbol of police force
By Allan Woods, Toronto Star, Oct 18, 2012
MONTREAL— Better known by her Montreal police badge number, 728, Const. Stéfanie Trudeau has been unveiled as a crass-talking cop with a penchant for pepper spray, violent chokeholds and, if witnesses can be believed, falsifying notes so that her dubious interventions hold up in court. She is Montreal’s version of Officer Bubbles, the stone-faced Toronto officer who threatened assault charges against a bubble-blowing G20 protester in 2010.
Now Trudeau is under the microscope: suspended, disarmed and the subject of an internal police probe that is looking at her conduct and reviewing criminal charges that have resulted from her work. But the officer has also become a lightning rod for a city that has emerged from months of turbulent clashes this spring between student protesters and riot police, its confidence in the police force violently shaken.
“A lot of citizens have lived through Montreal this spring with police brutality, police misbehaviour, police repression,” said Amir Khadir, the MNA for the riding of Mercier. “Unfortunately all that accumulated frustration now has somehow concentrated on the head of this poor constable.”
As with so much public misconduct these days, Trudeau found her fame on YouTube last May after repeatedly pepper-spraying a group of protesters who had been heckling police on the margins of a student protest against tuition hikes in downtown Montreal. “You’re going to be a star,” one man shouts from off camera while wiping the spray from his eyes.
Little did he know that Officer 728 was already notorious among those who have crossed her path. There have been two formal complaints filed against Trudeau over the last decade. In one, she was rebuked for bullying staff at a children’s hospital and carelessly revealing the identity of a young sexual assault victim to others on the ward.
It was not until shortly after Rudi Occhietti and a group of friends had a run-in with Trudeau on Oct. 2 that the outrage peaked. About 9:30 p.m. Simon Pagé was walking along the street carrying his upright bass when Occhietti called down to him from the window of his studio. He ran down the stairs, beer in hand, to let Pagé in. Trudeau spotted the relatively minor infraction of carrying open alcohol in public and approached.
What followed is now freely available on the web. Viewers can see Serge Lavoie, another friend who was in the apartment, smothered and held in a headlock by Trudeau. Outside, 20 cruisers’ worth of reinforcements are arriving on the scene. One of the phones that were seized later catches an unwitting Trudeau talking to a superior, recounting the incident. She refers to those arrested as “rats,” “guitar pluckers,” “s— eaters,” and “carrés rouges”— referring to the square red felt patch worn by student protesters this spring.
“Clearly what happened is a kind of condensed version of the clashes between protesters and police this spring,” Occhietti said. Montreal police are doing their best to play down any associations to this spring’s turbulence, but they are also distancing themselves from Trudeau’s actions. The evidence against Occhietti, Pagé and Lavoie is being closely reviewed before the case either proceeds or is abandoned.
Meanwhile, a witness to the Oct. 2 incident told Radio-Canada she heard Trudeau urging other officers to change the notes of an incident to ensure she didn’t get in trouble. “I heard her very well saying ‘Don’t write it like that, because if it goes to court I don’t want to be hassled,’ ” Catia Moreau said.
4. The construction industry scandal and inquiry:
Montreal suspends construction contracts
By Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press, published in Toronto Star, Oct 3, 2012
MONTREAL—The City of Montreal has announced a temporary suspension of new construction contracts in the wake of sensational allegations that systemic corruption has benefited that Mafia, political parties and corrupt bureaucrats to the detriment of local taxpayers.
There will be no new contracts for construction work unless it involves urgent repairs, until further notice, the city announced Wednesday. The new policy will delay $75 million in planned construction projects, it said in a statement. “I have a duty to protect the interests of taxpayers,” Mayor Gerald Tremblay said.
The mayor has come under heavy criticism for his handling of corruption scandals over the years. Several former members of his inner circle have been slapped with criminal charges — although Tremblay has persistently said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.
His opponents are demanding his resignation. While the provincial government hasn’t gone quite that far, it hasn’t stuck up for the mayor either.
The city administration now wants the provincial government to amend contracting laws to allow it to refuse work to the lowest bidder, if that bidder has been associated with corruption. It said the provincial law introduced by the previous Liberal government does not do enough to exclude certain parties. In the statement, it said the new provincial government had indicated that the legislative change would be made by Christmas.
The announcement is just part of the fallout from the testimony of one man: Lino Zambito. In four days at the public inquiry, the former construction boss has described an industry that operated as a tightly controlled, price-fixing cartel — one where the Mob, local bureaucrats and even the mayor’s political party allegedly took a cut.
He has dropped the names of some of the most powerful construction magnates, Mafiosi, and high-ranking ex-local officials — all of whom have vigorously denied any wrongdoing. And he hints that he’s barely getting warmed up.
Zambito suggested this week that he is on the verge of exposing illicit practices outside Montreal and beyond municipal politics, although his testimony has not gone there yet.
For a change, while testifying Wednesday, Zambito focused on positive changes in the industry. He said things started to clean up three years ago when the provincial government created an anti-corruption police unit — nicknamed Operation Hammer. He said that instantly lessened a culture of bid-rigging and kickbacks and drastically reduced the price of public works in the province.
Pressed on how the police scrutiny changed the landscape, Zambito said the proof is in the price: He estimated that the cost of public-works projects dropped as much as 15 per cent. “The best way to demonstrate it is to study the contracts,” Zambito told commission chair France Charbonneau, who’d asked the question. “I think that it shows that cost of contracts has gone down.”
Zambito said the industry was scared straight in late 2009, following a series of shocking news reports that spurred the government to act. He said that construction bosses were no longer being forced to pay so-called “taxes” and kickbacks to various people.
Zambito had previously testified that 2.5 per cent of the value of his rigged municipal contracts went to the Italian Mafia; three per cent went to the Montreal mayor’s political party; one per cent was a bribe to a certain local bureaucrat; and many other gifts and cash went to other officials. All these things, along with industry collusion, pushed up the cost of construction work for years, he said.
But he said corrupt municipal engineers and bureaucrats suddenly started taking their retirement after the arrival of the Hammer squad — and the extra fees stopped. “Right there, the prices went down six or seven per cent,” Zambito said.
Construction companies were concerned with the law-enforcement crackdown. He said collusion had gone on until at least August 2009, but declined after that.
Zambito said that by late October 2009, as the scandals erupted and the police pressure mounted, he personally refused to have anything to do with the cartel and even stopped taking phone calls from other bid-riggers. From that point on, he said, he only participated in competitive bidding.
Zambito said that of the contracts he bid on after Oct. 22, 2009 — when the Quebec government announced the police unit — not a single one was rigged. But he said the traces of corruption lingered. Companies continued to stay inside the geographic boundaries they previously worked in, he said.
Quebec eventually introduced a permanent anti-corruption squad in 2011 that includes the Hammer unit.
Earlier Wednesday, Zambito said that while plenty of public-works contracts were rigged not everything was controlled by cartels. Zambito said certain work, like contracts for bridges for example, was exempt because there wasn’t a huge volume available. “There wasn’t enough work going to tender to warrant it,” Zambito said, adding that any bridge work he had done was won competitively.
He said the cartel system extended to other areas of the industry like paving, sewers and sidewalks — because those offered plenty of public money to go around and numerous jobs yearly.
Zambito, who is no longer in the construction business, said he thinks prices will eventually rise again as multinationals take over smaller- and medium-sized construction businesses. “My vision of things is that in two or three years, the prices will artificially increase because the multinationals will control the market,” Zambito said.
In 2011, Zambito’s company went out of business. He was slapped with criminal charges and his company could no longer secure credit from the bank. “The creation of the squad and my arrest left me on the outside in the industry,” Zambito said.
A publication ban prevents media from reporting some details of Wednesday’s testimony.
Zambito’s testimony finally over
First witness makes many allegations
By Monique Muise, The Gazette, Oct 18, 2012
After eight days of detailed and frequently explosive testimony, Lino Zambito calmly walked out of the hearing room at the Charbonneau Commission for the last time Wednesday evening, leaving a mountain of allegations and more than a few unanswered questions in his wake.
City of Montreal lawyer Martin St. Jean perhaps said it best during his crossexamination of the former construction boss during the morning session: Zambito threw a lot of “names into the wind” during his time on the stand, but at a certain point, Quebecers will want more than hearsay and allegations: They’ll want proof.
“You have to get down to concrete evidence,” St. Jean quipped as he attempted to pry that kind of evidence out of Zambito for the second day in a row.
The remark prompted Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau to remind everyone that “this is a commission of inquiry,” and it must proceed one step at a time.
“We have to start somewhere,” she said.
St. Jean, along with lawyers for the Parti Québécois and the Conseil provincial du Québec des métiers de la construction, did their best on Wednesday to poke holes in some of Zambito’s most damning allegations, casting doubt on his ability to remember specific dates, names and amounts of money, and highlighting his second-hand knowledge of alleged events.
St. Jean, for example, got Zambito to acknowledge that he was never actually present for the handover of an alleged three-per-cent “tax” he claimed was demanded by Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s Union Montreal party starting in 2005. Zambito also admitted that he never witnessed the alleged handover of a $300,000 kickback to former city manager Robert Abdallah, something he said happened in late 2005.
“You’re making a deduction,” St. Jean observed when Zambito confirmed that he never saw Abdallah take any money.
“It’s not a deduction,” Zambito fired back. “I’m telling you what was told to me by the engineer (Michel Lalonde) on the project. … He was the city’s representative; he was in contact with Mr. Abdallah.”
The questions only got tougher. At one point, Zambito was easily able to recall how much kickback money he allegedly gave to former city engineer Luc Leclerc over several years ($200,000), but then unable to provide a similar “guess” for how much he allegedly funnelled to Union Montreal.
The former head of the Infrabec construction firm was also grilled at length on his allegation that former city engineer Gilles Surprenant levied his own one-per-cent “tax” on public works contracts. St. Jean was eager to know how the construction bosses could be certain that the contract prices were being inflated enough to make sure that one per cent could be easily skimmed off the top.
“When a contract was organized, the space was there to create the margin of profit, whether it was signed by Mr. Surprenant or another engineer,” Zambito replied. “We took it for granted that they were all inflated.”
Unlike Abdallah, who allegedly got his “cut” through a middleman, Zambito said that he handed cash directly to city engineers Leclerc and Surprenant in various downtown cafés. He confirmed, however, that no one else was present for those alleged meetings.
At the provincial level, Zambito’s testimony over the course of eight days centred largely on the Quebec Liberal Party, but Parti Québécois lawyer Estelle Tremblay turned out to be the only counsel for a provincial party who wanted to cross-examine Zambito. She questioned Zambito mainly about his dealings with Transport Quebec between 1998 and 2003, when the PQ was in power. While some of the provincial contracts he bid on, or was awarded, during that period were rigged, he said, he was not aware of any false “extras” being charged on the non-rigged contracts, or other types of collusion involving the PQ government or party officials.
The Quebec Liberals, who had fought tooth and nail to gain official status at the commission earlier in the week so their lawyer could crossexamine Zambito, apparently had an abrupt change of heart on Wednesday. Liberal lawyer Michel Décary stunned the commissioners when he announced at 5 p.m. that the only questions he had to ask pertained to testimony still subject to a publication ban.
Charbonneau swiftly refused that request, and Zambito was dismissed. Earlier in the day, when he was asked why he had come before the commission and been so frank about his participation in schemes that defrauded taxpayers out of millions, the former entrepreneur’s answer was brief and to the point:
“I said that if I was called to testify at the Charbonneau Commission, I’d do my duty as a citizen.”
Zambito’s testimony will likely loom large over the inquiry as it continues its investigations behind the scenes and readies itself to hear from more people in the coming weeks. The name of the next witness to take the stand remains a mystery, with commission officials saying only that he or she is an engineer, and will be present on Thursday.
The stain of corruption allegations
Those whose names have been mentioned in testimony face a difficult task in deciding how to respond: Should they hold a news conference to clear their name? Leave their job to spare colleagues? Or simply ignore the speculation?
By Max Harrold, Montreal Gazette, Oct 18, 2012
Robert Abdallah, the city of Montreal’s general manager from 2003 until 2006, is scheduled to hold a news conference on Thursday to defend his honour and deny the claim he illegally pocketed $300,000 in cash as the city’s top civil servant. The humble defence — to be held in a community centre — is necessary because Abdallah cannot, or has not yet been asked, to testify at the Charbonneau Commission, Gilles Dauphin, a spokesperson for Abdallah, said on Wednesday.
The commission — into corruption and collusion in Quebec’s construction industry — is where the mud was flung at Abdallah and two other prominent men who have since quit their posts, been reassigned or felt maligned by the testimony of ex-construction boss Lino Zambito, who himself faces fraud charges.
Experts say Quebecers wanted a public inquiry and that is what they are getting. It is not a regular court hearing — no one in particular is being formally accused but there are a lot of bruised egos from unproven allegations. Call it the Charbo effect. On Wednesday, Loto-Québec’s head of communications, Pierre Bibeau, was reassigned after Zambito claimed that he gave Bibeau $30,000 in cash at Loto-Québec’s offices in April 2009, when Bibeau was an organizer for the Liberal Party as well as head of corporate communications for the crown corporation. There was no proof of Zambito’s claim.
On Tuesday, construction magnate Antonio Accurso, who in April was arrested on charges of fraud, corruption, bribery and conspiracy, announced he is quitting as head of his group of companies, which he said earn $1 billion annually. His decision came after Zambito alleged at the commission that reputed Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto intervened in a spat between Zambito and Accurso over a $25-million contract to rebuild the l’Acadie viaduct in 2002. Accurso’s company got the contract. Accurso has flatly denied there was ever any conflict.
This month, Zambito testified that it was Abdallah in 2005 who ordered Zambito’s firm to use a supplier named Tremca, which sold more expensive pipes than other suppliers, on a $10-million job to install a collector pipe beneath Sherbrooke St. W. And Zambito suggested Abdallah would eventually pocket the $300,000 difference. The claims are completely false and actually based on “double hearsay,” Abdallah’s spokesperson, Dauphin, said in response.
Zambito said someone told him that someone was giving money to Abdallah. He also admitted he never saw cash handed over.
Concordia University political science lecturer Bruce Hicks said the Charbonneau Commission is a hybrid between traditional public inquiries that consider a problem broadly and criminal investigations that fix a problem with arrests. The commission can compel witnesses to testify, but cannot press charges.
Police investigations, and ensuing criminal charges, continue separately. But Hicks noted UPAC, the provincial police’s anti-corruption unit, has made some high-profile raids recently, “almost on the heels” of highly publicized testimony at the Charbonneau Commission. “Maybe we needed this level of scrutiny to educate the public about what is going on and to spur the government and the police forces into taking serious action,” Hicks said.
“It’s only unfair if it’s not true,” he added. “This has been a challenge as long as we have had reputations.”
Luc Hébert, a criminology professor at the Université de Montréal, noted the commission’s two-year mandate. “Things are just getting started. (Zambito) is just the first big witness,” Hébert said. “What I hope as a citizen is that these allegations will be confirmed by others.
“It’s true there is a lot of mud being thrown. If they are allowing that, it is because they have a game plan and they believe they can corroborate it with others.”
Richard Bourdon, the commission spokesman, agreed. “I refer you to Commissioner France Charbonneau’s speech at the start of the hearings when she said she would not allow witnesses to tarnish peoples’ reputations,” Bourdon said. “So we can assume that when people come and say such and such things, that verifications have been made.