Five years after the Charbonneau commission, things are still going badly at the Department of Transport. The investigations division has been decimated, the work climate is deemed toxic and there are fears of a return to collusion in public contracts.
The Investigations Division is now referred to as an “empty shell” by sources who have confided in us.
In August 2018, there were five investigators at the Quebec Ministry of Transport (MTQ). Since last year, only one active remains. Executives also left the ship.
It is not yesterday that there are problems within this ministry. Several collusion scandals had preceded the Commission of Inquiry into the Granting and Management of Public Contracts in the Construction Industry, chaired by France Charbonneau.
The Auditor General also denounced the excessive bureaucracy of the MTQ and the difficulty of properly managing the monitoring of public contracts. Still, the situation does not appear to have improved.
“Today, the ministry no longer wants to know if there is collusion and corruption in the contracts”, says a former investigator who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals .
Our Bureau of Investigation notably had access to documents in addition to collecting multiple testimonies describing the serious problems in the direction of the investigations over the past two years.
End of investigations
The role of these investigators is to intervene following a complaint related to collusion and corruption that may target contracts and firms across the country, but also to detect and prevent anomalies, fraud, embezzlement and other acts. dishonest.
They could intervene on construction sites following complaints, such as the Turcot interchange in Montreal.
For two years, whole sections of the investigation have been abandoned. Some are also worried that collusion is back in force, due to the lack of closer monitoring by investigators at the heart of the MTQ to respond to complaints.
The management of conflicts of interest at the MTQ in the awarding of public contracts had been severely scratched by the commissioners of the Charbonneau commission.
As a result of these events, the investigation division had been restructured.
An operation that was concluded with the suspension of former deputy minister Dominique Savoie in 2016, targeted by allegations of intimidation and manipulation in investigations. She was then reinstated elsewhere in the public service.
This change of guard was to ease tensions. However, the exact opposite has happened.
“It got worse,” describes a source.
This redevelopment was unsuccessful, other accounts indicate.
Some investigators also complained that their reports were edited by management without their consent. These allegations are found in harassment complaints that have been submitted to the Public Service Commission.
For its part, the MTQ assures that there has been no job abolition, but refuses to explain why the majority of positions have been vacant for 18 months.
“There has been a reorganization of positions within the organization […] There are six positions dedicated to investigators, four of which are vacant, and one in the staffing process, ”says spokesperson Émilie Lord.
This whole saga has greatly diminished the ministry’s investigative capacity over the past two years, our sources add.
Yet Quebec continues to pay top dollar to consulting engineering firms, while increasing the hiring of young, inexperienced engineers to manage projects and contracts.
Despite the absence of investigators, the MTQ ensures that it is able to respond to all types of investigations and that there are now other entities such as the Autorité des marchés publics and the Québec Ombudsman. The organization also relies on a division of contractual rules.
Our sources confirm that only the audit section survived this purge, but not without contention.
A cascade of departures
▶ February 2019
Departure of an investigator
▶ March 2019
▶ May 2019
Departure of the Director of Investigations
▶ May 2019
Investigators learn management will be reshuffled
▶ May 2019
Departure of two investigators
▶ June 2019
External investigation for harassment suspended
▶ July 2019
Departure of a fourth investigator
Departure of Deputy Minister
Former employees empty their hearts
Over the past few weeks, our Bureau of Investigation has spoken to ex-investigators who have lost their hearts on the situation at the Department of Transportation’s investigations and their fears of a return to collusion. All of them wanted to remain anonymous for fear of employer reprisals.
“ Contracts were combed through. There were complaints relating to rigged contracts. We had access to all the witnesses, both from the firms and the MTQ. Today, the ministry no longer wants to know if there is collusion and corruption in contracts. “
“ It is not true that AMP [Autorité des marchés publics] can intervene in all cases. “
“ When the director announced his departure, they decided that the Investigations Directorate would no longer exist. That they no longer needed inquiries. “
“ It was always the confrontation. The work climate was difficult and unhealthy. “
A deputy minister criticized by Legault
While in opposition, François Legault had fired red bullets on Deputy Minister Marc Lacroix, appointed by the Liberals a year earlier.
This outing took place after the publication of the report of the Auditor General (VG) of Quebec which affirmed that the Ministry of Transport was afflicted with a heavy bureaucracy and that it made difficult the management of public contracts.
The CAQ leader said that Mr. Lacroix did not have the skills to relaunch the MTQ liner in order to ensure the sound management of public contracts. He added that he owed his career to his liberal affinities.
“Apart from his liberal political allegiance, what are the skills of Mr. Lacroix? Criticized the current prime minister. Once elected, the CAQ government nevertheless trusted Mr. Lacroix until his retirement in January 2020. Marc Lacroix is defending himself today. “I was retained. I’ve even been honored for my entire career, he described. The period covered by the VG report was my predecessor’s report. It was not me. I was appointed to redress a situation. “
Complaints and a toxic climate
Investigators who have filed a complaint for psychological harassment and denounced a toxic climate at the Ministry of Transport have seen their positions revoked. This saga is now found before the Public Service Commission.
It was during the reign of former Deputy Minister Marc Lacroix that the MTQ’s investigation department was cut. The division was in the midst of a storm, however.
An external investigation had just been opened due to complaints of psychological harassment.
The skills of this deputy minister had been harshly criticized by François Legault when he was in the opposition.
In March 2019, the first complaints for psychological harassment were reported to the ministerial respondent in the matter at the MTQ. Survey managers are targeted.
Three employees were then told that their positions had been abolished, or were placed elsewhere in the department.
At least four complaints have recently been lodged with the Public Service Commission (PSC) following this decision.
Victims claim that superiors constantly denigrated their work.
Under pressure from managers, some allege having submitted truncated reports.
“The versions of the people involved were sometimes withdrawn”, specifies a source.
Investigators feared that these documents would damage the ministry and their own reputation. These allegations must be investigated before the PSC.
A former executive said, however, that running the department was difficult due to a group of employees causing problems.
Another source maintains that the problems have been deep within the team for a long time. Despite the departure of employees and managers, nothing has changed.
Marc Lacroix could be called to testify in court. He declined to comment on the matter.