Quebec has announced an inquiry into allegations of widespread corruption in the building industry in the province, bowing to political and public pressure for a wide-scale investigation.
Premier Jean Charest announced Wednesday the creation of a provincial commission, to be led by Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau.
The commission has a mandate to examine how public construction contracts are handed out in Quebec, and will focus on the last 15 years of public works projects in the province.
It must produce its final report by October 2013.
"We have listened, we took account of Mr. Duchesneau's report," Charest said in French at a news conference in Quebec City — referring to a scathing report from Quebec's anti-collusion watchdog that documented allegations of backroom deals and links to organized crime in the construction sector.
The commission will hold closed-door meetings and public hearings, depending on the witnesses.
No one will be forced to testify, and those who do appear in front of the commission won't have immunity.
Premier says he'll testify if asked
Charest said the inquiry procedures are specifically designed to protect ongoing police investigations into collusion allegations, and ensure any evidence gathered won't be thrown out of court.
When asked whether he would appear if called to testify, the premier replied, "Yes."
The inquiry announcement comes after two years of reports of corruption involving the construction industry, political parties and crime groups like the Mafia.
Analysts have cited such malfeasance as one reason the province spends as much as one-third extra per construction project than other jurisdictions in Canada.
The Opposition maintains that what Quebecers want is a public, transparent, wide-ranging inquiry.
Now the Parti Québécois is promising to hold its own inquiry within 100 days of taking office. The next Quebec election could be held as early as spring 2012, although Charest can legally wait until December 2013 to call a vote.
The PQ is encouraging Liberals to stage a mutiny against their leader. The Quebec Liberal Party has a convention next weekend, and some suspect Wednesday's announcement was timed to quell dissension in the ranks.
"Rise up!" Marois told a news conference, addressing the Liberal rank-and-file.
"Stand up against this code of silence.... There will be a [real] public inquiry – sooner or later," she promised.
Earlier in the day, Charest said his opponents would be impossible to please.
"The leader of the official Opposition is demonstrating that, whatever the government does, she'll simply disagree," he told the legislature.
"But she could at least tell us, because I'm asking for the third time ... Does she agree that we should protect evidence, the ability to lay charges and protect witnesses?"