Montreal halts $75M in contracts in wake of corruption allegations
Province promises changes to Bill 35, which governs the bidding process, by end of year
Montreal is suspending the awarding of new infrastructure contracts in the wake of startling testimony at the provincial inquiry into corruption in the construction industry.
The city's executive committee made the decision at a meeting Wednesday morning, according to Richard Deschamps, the committee's vice-president.
The move will halt all new contracts to give the provincial government time to make changes to Bill 35, the law that dictates how public contracts can be awarded.
The city wants the law changed so it is no longer forced to award contracts to the lowest bidder.
Only new contracts are affected by the suspension. Those already in progress will continue as planned, Deschamps said.
Emergency work will also not be affected. In total, the value of the contracts suspended is about $75 million, according to the city.
Last week, Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay called on the provincial government to amend the bill while speaking at a press conference, during which he denied any knowledge of collusion between known members of the Mafia and construction magnates who were winning large city contracts.
Since that time, testimony at the Charbonneau commission has implicated his party in a kickback scheme that involved construction bosses paying city officials based on the value of the contracts they received.
Three public works employees, named by a witness at the commission, were suspended with pay as the city investigates the allegations.
Today, Tremblay said the move to suspend further contracts was needed to "protect the interests of taxpayers."
He said the province has assured the city that amendments to the law, which will give municipalities more discretion to determine who is eligible for city contracts, will be made by the end of the year.
"I think we can take a break in our infrastructure work in the meantime to give [them] time to provide us with better tools," he said.
Opposition party calls for criminal investigation
Louise Harel, leader of Vision Montreal, said the Tremblay administration had repeatedly refused to suspend the awarding of infrastructure contracts.
"This is what we've been calling for for months," she said.
Harel said regardless of if Tremblay was aware or not of the alleged kickback scheme, it happened under his administration and he is ultimately responsible.
"The mayor should have enough honour to fulfil his responsibilities."
The leader of Projet Montreal, Richard Bergeron, said he's been asking for the suspension of these contracts for two years, but the mayor insisted they were for urgent projects.
He called on the Sûreté du Québec to launch an investigation into Tremblay's Union Montreal party and its leader.