In light of the recent disturbing revelations concerning the Quebec construction industry's infiltration of the political process and the exploitation of the bidding process in relation to public construction contracts, it's normal that citizens across the province of Quebec are demanding that the Provincial government launch a public inquiry.
The veil of secrecy into the dealings between construction industry moguls, politicians and the political parties, who are alleged to have colluded in the approval of overpriced construction projects favouring a select few companies, is overpoweringly frustrating to an angry public who have just about had enough with corruption.
Off to the side, stubbornly resisting the onslaught is Premier Charest, secure in the knowledge that any such inquiry would be the coup de grace for his government, regardless of the revelations. Between two cups of poison, he's going with the slower acting potion. Who can blame him?
Those who remember back to the last inquiry concerning the construction industry, held some 35 years ago, hope that a new inquiry will be as successful in exposing the dirty secrets of collusion, bid-rigging, intimidation and payoffs that the commission uncovered back then.
For those too young to remember, the Cliche Commission, empanelled by the then Premier, Robert Bourassa, was the height of theatre, with thugs like Andre 'Dédé' Desjardins exposed and the machinations of a thoroughly corrupt and violent industry laid bare.
Back then, witnesses were ill-prepared to face the inquisition and many were poorly represented or had no counsel at all. Most were bewildered by the process and most folded, doing various versions of mea culpas.
Those of us who hope to see a replay of those proceedings in a new construction industry inquiry, will be sadly disappointed. One only has to look at recent examples of public inquiries to understand that the once mighty weapon has been reduced to a pathetic exercise in futility.
Today witnesses come prepared and well-briefed in what to say and how to act. They have lawyers upon lawyers, all paid for with public money. Witnesses go through hours upon hours of preparation and finally when all else fails, bold-faced lies or denials are offered without any fear of sanction or penalty. When the grilling gets tough, lawyers often jump up to interrupt proceedings to take the heat off their clients.
Did we really need an inquiry to remind us that Brian Mulroney is dishonest? The facts were stipulated by all, even by Mulroney himself, who admitted that he took an under the table cash payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars and hid the money from the tax man. He neither deposited the cash in the bank, nor did he add the income to his tax declaration. Several years after the fact, when he felt threatened that the affair would become public knowledge, he ran to the tax authorities to confess and pay up, in exchange for confidentiality.
If he had done what he did in the USA, he'd be sharing a cell with Conrad Black.
What did the Oliphant Inquiry add? Stubborn, prepared and well coached, Mulroney brazened it out. Not since O J Simpson's trial did we see such a magnificent performance of legal of fact-twisting and manoeuvring. So good was Mulroney on the stand, that in the end, most felt like apologizing to him for the inconvenience.
The Inquiry cost the public MILLIONS of dollars with Mulroney's lawyers pocketing close to 2 million dollars in fees, all paid for by us. I can't think of a more galling scenario.
Even the famous Gomery Commission which examined the famous Sponsorship Scandal
was really unnecessary as all the main players were already under
indictment and already negotiating plea agreements.
The ongoing Inquiry held to determine the circumstances surrounding the death of Fredy Villanueva is a sad reminder of how farcical these type of proceedings have become.
The Inquiry was called, not to determine the facts, but rather to take the heat off the politicians in light of the rioting following the shooting.
The Inquiry was called to ostensibly determine the truth behind the shooting. Did police shoot the suspects because they were attacked or did they shoot the suspects because they were incompetent?
While the police can hardly be trusted, choosing between their version of the facts and those of a bunch of low-life thieving punks is a no-brainer. I'll go with Door Number One, if you please.
Listening to the patently dishonest testimony of the various thugs was hilarious, except for the fact that we the public, are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for their lawyers.
Bold faced lie after bold faced lie was accepted at face value with nobody held accountable for their perjurous testimony. When caught in a direct contradiction between his testimony and his own sworn affidavit, one of the 'witness'' shrugged his shoulders. What's the big deal?...... Arghh!!!!!!
If dumb, uneducated gangsters can confound an Inquiry with nothing more than legal-aid lawyers, think about those slick and experienced businessmen with unlimited resources and an army of shysters at their disposal?
Make no mistake about it, Quebec is thoroughly corrupt, from top to bottom, but a public inquiry won't make a dent in the problem because it will be as useful as the Oliphant Inquiry or the Inquest in the Villanueva shooting.
At any rate, an inquiry into the construction industry is much too limited in scope, corruption doesn't just involve a few Italian construction companies.
Corruption is EVERYWHERE, it's part of Quebec culture.
From the insignificant under the table payment for a haircut by your grandmother, to the organized price-fixing of dairy products by a powerful producer group, price-fixing, gouging, work for nothing, tax evasion, welfare fraud, cigarette and alcohol fraud, political kickbacks, illegal campaign financing, special favours, etc. etc. is all part of the Quebec culture.
What can you say when the ex-Lieutenant-Governor of the province is likely going on trial for allegedly double billing both the Federal and Provincial government for the same personal expenses to the tune of 700k.
Too many of us want an inquiry into the construction industry so that we can scapegoat the Italians.
That way we won't have to face the reality of corruption, which is unremitting, relentless, omnipresent and cuts across all classes.
To face that elephant in the room, we'll need a lot more than an Inquiry.