William Marsden – May 9, 2012
A company competing for the $3-billion Turcot Interchange project is crying foul over the fact that the two Quebec engineering companies that prepared the specifications for the giant project are important players in one of the five consortiums bidding on its construction. The competitors claim this gives the two companies an unfair advantage.
SNC-Lavalin and CIMA+ won the $7-million contract in 2010 to write up the final specifications for the design and construction of the new Turcot Interchange.Their 800-page document details the specifications and criteria upon which the final contract will be awarded.
The two companies have teamed together with Louisbourg SEC – whose owner Antonio Accurso was charged last month for fraud, conspiracy, bribery and breach of trust – to make up the consortium Groupe Futur Turcot, which is one of five bidders on the Turcot project.
One competitor claimed this gives the SNC-Lavalin/CIMA+ consortium an “unfair and unwarranted” advantage because it has an intimate knowledge of what the government is seeking, as well as what the government has already rejected as potential design solutions to the construction of the Turcot Interchange.
“So we are going to probably be pursuing a notice to the arbitrator for conflict of interest and when I say conflict of interest it dovetails with unfair and unwarranted advantage,” said a spokesperson for one of the competitors, who did not want to be named for fear it might damage the company’s chances of winning the contract.
“You cannot be allowed to work on all the preliminary studies and scenarios with the client and then be allowed to bid on it. Normally, they separate that.”
SNC-Lavalin and CIMA+ worked on the specifications from February 2011 until April. The contract for the work specifically states that the two companies are allowed to bid on the final contract. The spokesperson for the competing consortium said SNC-Lavalin will have an advantage because it will know what the government is looking for.
“There’s a lot of thinking outside the box on this kind of project,” he said.
“There is information that we don’t have or the knowledge of meetings or decision-making as to various options or scenarios ... that we don’t know about, but that they (Lavalin) know about that would benefit their bid.”
Caroline Larose, spokesperson for the Transport Department, rejected the charge that SNC-Lavalin has an unfair advantage.
“The document that was prepared by SNC-Lavalin is a working document that is available to everybody,” she said.
“So everybody has access to the same information.”
The competitor said that while this is true, there is a lot of background information that other bidders are not privy to, but that SNC-Lavalin will know about.
“Frankly speaking, for the other bidders and players to get up to the same speed and level of knowledge of the project as SNC-Lavalin, it’s almost impossible to do based on the fact that they have been working on it for the last year and a half intimately with the client,” the spokesperson said. “That’s where there is a real unfair and unwarranted advantage.”
Other bidders say they also are considering complaining to the project arbitrator about SNC-Lavalin, the spokesperson said.
But two of the bidders are in a difficult position because they are teamed with SNC-Lavalin in other projects.
The Spanish company Ferrovial, for instance, is working with SNC-Lavalin on the east extension of Highway 407 in Toronto, and Dragados Canada Inc., another Spanish company, is in a consortium with SNC-Lavalin bidding for a light-rail project in Ottawa. The two other bidders on the Turcot project are consortiums that include Dexter Quebec Inc. and Kiewit Cie of the United States.
The Quebec government was criticized by Jacques Duchesneau, author of the 2011 Duchesneau Report on collusion in the construction industry, for allowing companies that prepared preliminary documents for a bidding process to bid on those contracts.
Duchesneau claimed that this gave these companies a potential advantage.
SNC-Lavalin spokesperson Leslie Quinton said “being involved in the preliminary process is in no way a guarantee of winning the contract and we believe there will be a fair evaluation of all submissions.”
Concerning the inclusion of Louisbourg in the SNC-Lavalin consortium, she said that “the selection of Louisbourg SBC as part of the consortium Group Futur Turcot was based strictly on a review of the company’s specific technical and operational capabilities to deliver projects of this nature which few, if any, local businesses possess.”