Sloppy management, not corruption responsible for wasted tax dollars, says Quebec auditor general

Guylaine Leclerc, Quebec's auditor general, reported that the agency renting provincial government office space is lax in its negotiating practices, but she found there was no collusion between UPAC and AMF in directing business to one consulting firm, that was advising construction companies on how to win regulatory approval.

Others real estate owners, not connected to the Quebec Liberals, got sweet deals

Quebec Auditor General Guylaine Leclerc found a number of issues with the public entity that rents office space for the government.

Quebec's auditor general, in her second report this year, pointed to sloppy practices, not corruption, in the wasting of taxpayers' money.

Auditor General Guylaine Leclerc examined leases signed by the Société québécoise de l'infrastructure (SIQ), which rents office space for provincial entities. 

The SIQ has been under scrutiny ever since Radio-Canada investigative television program Enquête revealed that buildings owned by Liberal fundraiser Marc Bibeau were rented out by the government at higher than normal rates.

Leclerc found that Bibeau was not alone in winning sweetheart leases. The SIQ often paid more in rent than it should have and assumed higher than normal operating costs, her report concluded. 

One of those buildings, at 800 Place d'Youville in Quebec City, was 45 per cent empty by April 2018, costing the SIQ $2.1 million a year, the auditor general noted.

"In the course of our work, we found government practices that need to be revised and improved so that public sector entities develop and maintain their power to negotiate with their partners in the private sector, so they can conclude agreements that are more economical," Leclerc wrote in her report.

Quebec government is stuck with long-term lease on 800, Place d'Youville, a Quebec City office building that is 45-per-cent empty, costing the province $2.1 million a year. (Julia Page/CBC)

No collusion found at AMF

Leclerc and her team also looked into an allegation that construction companies who are required to seek a clean-bill-of-health from the Autorité des marches financiers in order to bid on public contracts were forced to hire a specific consulting firm.

The allegation was made by Annie Trudel, an independent investigator who also recently alleged that Transport Quebec remains rife with corruption.

Leclerc said her people spoke to Trudel about her claim but that she would not identify the firm, citing "professional secrecy."

In the end, the auditor general's team found that of about 100 consulting firms retained by the 4,588 construction companies seeking AMF approval, only one consulting firm had a larger share of business — 26 companies — but in this case the companies had common ownership.

While Leclerc did find shortcomings in AMF verifications of the construction firms, it was attributed to a lack of expertise among officers who did not have training or experience in financial matters.

She concluded that, contrary to Trudel's assertions, there was no evidence of a scheme in the AMF's verification process.

Contaminated sites

The auditor general's report also investigated Quebec's inventory of contaminated sites. There are 1,901 such sites in the province, 196 of them belonging to the Commission scolaire de Montréal. 

But the government is doing little to clean them up, the report says.

In 2011, environmental liabilities from these sites were estimated at $3.2 billion. At the time, the government committed to cutting that in half within a decade.

That number, however, has barely budged since; environmental liabilities are currently estimated at $3.1 billion.