The city has no choice but to award $17 million worth of construction contracts to the firm of Antonio Accurso because the city is crumbling after decades of neglected repairs, Mayor Gérald Tremblay told city council on Tuesday as the opposition at city hall urged him to withdraw the projects rather than award more contracts to the businessman accused of fraud related to municipal contracts.
“We can talk about the cynicism of the public because of the allusions to collusion and corruption,” Tremblay told city council shortly before his Union Montréal majority voted to pass the first of five contracts to Louisbourg SBC over the objections of opposition parties Vision Montréal and Projet Montréal.
“We can also talk about the cynicism of the public, who say ‘How come we don’t have a safe road network? How come we have so many water main breaks? ... How come basements get flooded?’ ... That’s the dilemma we’re facing.”
Tremblay also commended the “remarkable work” of Accurso’s firm.
“It’s one of the best businesses we’ve had in Quebec for decades,” he said.
“I’m a little surprised to have heard the mayor say the public is angry because of aqueducts and to brag about the excellent work of the companies of Tony Accurso,” Projet Montréal councillor François Limoges said.
“I agree with the mayor that previous administrations underinvested in infrastructure. But when you come across a whole system that was put in place to profit from those contracts, inflate the figures and in a way divert taxpayer money, you can’t treat it as a secondary problem.”
On Monday night, Tremblay tabled a letter he sent to Quebec Municipal Affairs Minister Laurent Lessard this month to complain that the city is obligated to award the latest contracts to Louisbourg SBC despite the adoption of Bill 35 by the National Assembly in December. The law is supposed to prevent firms and business people found guilty of tax fraud and other crimes from bidding on public contracts by temporarily removing or restricting their construction licenses. Critics say business people can get around the law by forming new entities or removing themselves as company directors.
Tremblay said on Tuesday he agrees with a suggestion from Vision Montréal leader Louise Harel that city council pass a unanimous resolution to put pressure on the Quebec government to tighten Bill 35.
Meanwhile, Labour Minister Lise Thériault, who is responsible for Bill 35, said in Quebec City that her department is examining changes to the law to “plug” holes.
A bill will likely be tabled in the National Assembly in the fall, Thériault spokesperson Charles Robert said.
However, Robert said Thériault rejects Tremblay’s criticism of Bill 35, arguing that 150 companies have seen their construction permits suspended or restricted since the bill was adopted in December.
“It’s false to say the law is ineffective,” Robert said. “The law has given results that are extremely conclusive.”