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Quebec consulting engineers respond to allegations of collusion

Johanne Desrochers, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Association des ingénieurs-conseils du Quebec/Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec (AICQ), has responded to fresh allegations in the media that consulting...


Johanne Desrochers, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Association des ingénieurs-conseils du Quebec/Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec (AICQ), has responded to fresh allegations in the media that consulting engineers who join consortia are engaging in some form of “collusion” in order to obtain public contracts.

Desrochers published an open letter in Le Devoir newspaper on December 1 in response to an article by Kathleen Lévesque on February 25. Lévesque’s article was entitled “Consortia in the eye of the investigators,” referring to an anti-collusion investigation at the Ministry of Transportation.

Lévesque quoted an anonymous source from a public employee who said that by forming consortia, engineering firms eliminated the number of competitors and thus drove the price of projects up.

Desrochers pointedly explained that since the fees for contracts with the Transportation Ministry are fixed, then it doesn’t matter how many firms submit bids, the cost remains the same.

She also explained why firms join consortia — to expand their expertise and gain more evaluation points, thus increasing their chances of being invited to bid tenders and of winning. Another benefit of these temporary groups of firms is that they allow small firms to participate in large projects — something they might not be able to do otherwise, she said. And forming consortia helps to make Quebec firms more competitive worldwide.

Since there has been such a consolidation of firms in the province, it’s not surprising that 10 large firms obtain 80% of the work, wrote Desrochers. It’s the same in many industries, she added.

Around the same time, Sylvain Simard, a member of the Quebec legislature, caused a ruckus when he denounced the award by Hydro-Quebec of a contract of $295 million to a consortium of consulting engineers for the Eastmain 1-A project, which is under construction on the Rupert River in the James Bay area. An editorial by André Pratte in La Presse on December 3 sprang to the defence of consulting engineers, pointing out that since the consultants’ fees are preset by an agreement between AICQ and Hydro-Quebec, the fact that there was no open tender was not an issue.

The construction industry in Quebec is under a microscope at present, with the Parti Québécois calling for a public inquiry into allegations of corruption and influence peddling.