Collusion, threats of violence permeate Montreal snow-removal bids, report finds

Competition in Montreal's snow-removal industry is being undermined by some entrepreneurs employing "collusive" strategies and threats of physical violence, concludes the city's inspector general.

Mayor Denis Coderre insists Montreal's new snow-clearing policy addresses collusive practices

The inspector general's report on collusion in Montreal's snow-removal industry was unveiled Monday. (Radio-Canada)

Competition in Montreal's snow-removal industry is being undermined by a restricted group of entrepreneurs employing "collusive" strategies and threats of physical violence, the city's inspector general concluded in a report released Monday.

The report looked at the period between 2005 and 2015. 

Around 100 people were interviewed for the report, including 60 snow-removal contractors.

Many of those contractors claimed there are sections of the city where they cannot bid on contracts because those areas are considered the territory of a certain person or contractor.

Bidders call each other up

The report also found evidence of collusion between certain contractors to bid only on contracts in agreed-upon sectors, which affected the price of winning bids. 

"Contractors would contact each other during the call-for-tenders period in order to know one another's intentions in terms of contracts they were planning to bid on," the report says.

You stay in your turf, and I'll stay in mine.- snow-removal contractors cited in report

Some snow-removal contractors refused to acknowledge that such deal-making existed. However, the report said what they hinted at was just as significant.

"When questioned by the inspector general's office, those entrepreneurs said that 'everyone decides to stay in his own territory,' admitting to have told their competitors, 'You stay in your turf and I'll stay in mine.'"

The inspector general's report calls on the city to take steps against those kinds of practices. 

Threats of physical violence

The inspector general also found evidence of potential bidders being threatened with physical violence in order to deter them from competing for certain contracts. The report gave three examples:

  • A contractor was threatened with hammer blows to the head for refusing to buy out contracts for a company in bankruptcy.
  • A contractor threatened with 'having the s*** beat out of him' for refusing to buy a snow-clearing contract from a fellow entrepreneur
  • A contractor threatened with having his legs broken if he bid on a contract.

UPAC to look into findings

Quebec's anti-corruption unit, UPAC, has been informed of the report's findings, as has the province's competition bureau.

The report's recommendations include: 

  • The creation of an online bidding platform to assure the anonymity of bidders.
  • Mandatory disclosure of any bidder's contact with other snow-removal companies during the call-for-tenders period and justification for any contact made.
  • Prohibiting contractors from transfering their own contracts to other entrepreneurs.
  • Increased monitoring to ensure city rules governing subcontracting are respected.

Under the city's new snow-removal policy, Montreal is to take on a bigger role in coordinating snow clearing among its 19 boroughs. The inspector general's report says that increased oversight is crucial to moving forward on these recommendations.

The city spends $155 million annually on snow clearing. The work involves 3,000 snow-removal workers and 300,000 truckloads of snow are carted away each winter season.

Coderre says changes on the way

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said the report's support for the city's new snow-removal policy shows the city is moving in the right direction.

Mayor Denis Coderre appointed former Crown prosecutor Denis Gallant as Montreal's first inspector general in 2013. (CBC)

"What stands out is the recommendation for a single snow-removal policy, and we've done that already," he said.

Coderre also said the report stands as evidence that the city now has in place the means to address corruption.

Coderre created the inspector general's office shortly after being elected in late 2013 to address the recurring issue of corruption in city contracts – a position held by Denis Gallant, a former Crown prosecutor who also played a key role on the Charbonneau commission into corruption in Quebec's construction industry.

"It shows the system works — we have an auditing system that works, and this is proof of that," Coderre said. 

The inspector general's investigation follows on a report by Montreal's auditor general that found evidence of collusion in city snow-removal contracts between 2005 and 2013.