The Quebec government introduced Bill No. 1 entitled the "Integrity Act for Public Contracts" to the National Assembly on November 1. The Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec (AICQ) then had to quickly prepare a response to present to the Committee on Public Finance on November 12.
The Bill is being tabled in the midst of a flurry of allegations emerging at the ongoing Charbonneau Commission of Inquiry into corruption in the province's construction industry.
Bill No. 1 relates to companies doing business with any level of government in Quebec. It will make it mandatory that any company that wishes obtain a public contract must be authorized by AMF, the province's financial services regulator, (l'Autorité des marches financiers).
AICQ supports the legislation in principle but is not satisfied that some of the conditions deal fairly with consulting engineering companies.
In its latest newsletter, InfoConseil, AICQ writes: "Despite the principles of transparency, probity and fair competition that have guided the development of this bill and are consistent with the values of our association, the application of this legislation could have major consequences for engineering firms." [translation]
Johanne Desrochers, President and CEO of AICQ, expressed the association's concerns over the bill to the Committee on Public Finance in Quebec City on November 12. She was accompanied by Marc Tremblay, who is president of the AICQ Board of Directors and Executive Vice President and General Manager Canada of exp, and Patrice Morin, a lawyer with Borden Ladner Gervais.
They argued that certain rules seem difficult to apply and are subject to a subjective interpretation. For example, AICQ is concerned about how the AMF could consistently apply key concepts such as "de facto control," "misconduct," and "reasonable person" as criteria in deciding whether to grant or refuse authorization.
AICQ also says the legislation should allow more consistent mechanisms for companies to show that they have taken any necessary corrective actions in order to either keep their authorization or regain it.
AICQ also questions why the new rules should only apply to contracts that are over a certain financial threshold, which is provisionally set at $50 million.
Desrochers concludes: "The government seems determined to pass the bill quickly. Our efforts combined with briefs from other stakeholders, notably the Québec Bar, could possible lead to changes, but it is clear that for this Bill the pursuit of integrity will take precedence over all other considerations."
AICQ represents 40 engineering firms, 23,000 people and 90% of the consulting engineering industry in Quebec.