QUEBEC - Political pressure mounted on
the Quebec government as calls intensified
for a public inquiry into ties
between politicians, construction companies,
and organized crime.
Opposition parties tabled a motion in
the provincial legislature Wednesday
demanding an inquiry.
John Gomery - who led the historic inquiry into
the federal sponsorship scandal - was
omnipresent on Quebec's TV news
networks also demanding a probe.
The calls for a new inquiry followed
incendiary reports of the Italian Mafia and
construction companies colluding
to drive up the price tag
on public-works projects in the province.
Premier Jean Charest fended off furious
accusations from opponents
who demanded to know
why he'd resist such a demand.
"Why are you in politics?"
Opposition Leader Pauline Marois
asked him Wednesday during a debate.
"Why is the premier in politics?
To serve his own interests
or to serve the people of Quebec?"
Charest angrily shot back that
Marois was lowering the level
of debate in the chamber, and said he'd let
the police investigate
before making any decisions about a probe.
"There are investigations - and I'm using
the plural here - that have been going
on for quite some time," the premier replied.
"We need to give police the chance
to do their job. And if we (eventually)
need to go farther, we will go farther."
Gomery, who has a vested interest
in the debate as head of campaign
fundraising for a Montreal municipal
opposition party, was back
in the limelight Wednesday.
He dismissed the premier's explanation
as the classic politician's response
to a corruption scandal.
Indeed it's the identical response
given by the federal Liberal party
until Paul Martin hired Gomery,
a now-retired Quebec judge,
to lead what would become
the politically explosive sponsorship probe.
The push for an inquiry comes
as news reports allege the Mafia
has been co-operating with
construction firms to jack up
the prices of public-works projects.
Experts on the mob say
the practice exists all over the country.
The timing of the reports could hardly
be more awkward: Ottawa and
the provinces are now showering
the country with billions in construction
spending in the most expensive
infrastructure program in Canadian history.
The news emanating from Quebec
has tossed the current Montreal
mayoral race into disarray with
the taint of scandal hitting both
city hall and its main opposition party.
The repercussions of the corruption
allegations have quickly
the Nov. 1 municipal election.
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson
has been asked whether he might
call a federal inquiry and has
not ruled out the possibility.
And Charest's government, which
has weathered the recession with
its popularity unscathed, suddenly
finds itself being dragged into
a corruption controversy
by increasingly aggressive opposition attacks.
In addition to demanding a probe,
the opposition handed out old newspaper
clippings Wednesday about
a Charest vacation to Mexico
in 2000, paid for by
a construction-industry association.
The governing Liberals countered
that Marois has refused to disclose
donors who helped finance
her leadership bid starting in 2004.
The debate intensified last week
following a report on
the French-language network.
It cited a bureaucrat-turned-whistleblower
who claimed the Italian Mafia
controlled 80 per cent of Montreal's
and said contracts cost
35 per cent higher in the city
than they should cost.
The network also interviewed
members of the construction
industry who reportedly
confirmed the practice.
They said bosses of the city's
so-called 'Fabulous 14' construction
companies would collude to pick
the winner of every public
infrastructure tendering process.
One member of the consortium
would submit a bid at an artificially
high price - then nobody else would
submit a lower bid, so that
different companies could
take their turn at the public trough.Link here
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