Recent testimony before the Quebec corruption inquiry described many of the province's construction sites as arenas for discrimination, intimidation and extortion to spread unchecked.
Charbonneau Commission investigator Michel Comeau spoke before the commission yesterday, describing how the FTQ, the province’s largest labour federation, used intimidation and threats to enforce its rule over the construction industry.
Comeau was one of the commission's investigators who met with some 70 construction workers, most of them from sites in Saguenay, Abitibi and the Côte-Nord.
"On the radio, you could hear ‘We got the son of a bitch.'" - Michel Comeau, Charbonneau Commission investigator
The investigator described how workers were paid to do nothing for two years, and how peace with the unions was bought with tens of thousands of dollars in cash. He said the unions often ostracized workers who weren’t local.
According to Comeau, one foreman he spoke with compared life on the work sites to life in prison.
Comeau told the story of a truck driver from Quebec City, who was seriously injured on a work site near Chibougamau when he was directed to back up over a loose pile of earth.
“On the radio, you could hear, ‘We got the son of a bitch,'” Comeau said.
'Rambo is seen like a god'
According to Comeau, the problems can be traced back to the FTQ and Local 791 union representative Bernard “Rambo” Gauthier.
“Frankly, Rambo is seen like a god,” he told the corruption inquiry.
Comeau said construction companies were powerless on work sites where Gauthier held the reins, including Hydro-Québec’s La Romaine site.
“Hydro-Québec closed its eyes to what was going on, as long as the work progressed,” Comeau said.
He said construction companies' attempts to negotiate with the union to speed up work or cut costs were fruitless.
Even when companies spoke directly to Hydro-Québec, Comeau said nothing was done.