Canadian Consulting Engineer

Containing the damage from Charbonneau

When we asked our readers: “Are corporate ethical policies an effective tool for fighting corruption in the construction industry,” 67% of the respondents said no. I’m pretty sure most of the people who answered that way would...

March 1, 2014   By Bronwen Parsons

When we asked our readers: “Are corporate ethical policies an effective tool for fighting corruption in the construction industry,” 67% of the respondents said no. I’m pretty sure most of the people who answered that way would say that ethical behaviour is something that is embedded deep in an individual’s psyche and the cultures they inhabit. Behaving altruistically and doing what is right, no matter what the temptation is or what the personal cost, is not something that can be neatly controlled by corporate rules and mechanisms.

Still, something had to be done to put the construction industry in Quebec back on a stable footing after the corruption scandals threatened to engulf it. As a start, the Quebec government passed Law No. 1 in December 2012. Johanne Desrochers, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec (AICQ), explains in an interview on p. 44 that the Integrity Law requires that any company that wants to do business with the public sector in Quebec has to pass an integrity test and be approved by a provincial agency known as the AMF. The law applies to projects over $10 million, and to any company, whether its headquarters are in Quebec or many thousands of miles away.

Companies like SNC-Lavalin are busy reorganizing themselves, instituting ethical policies and accounting controls, and installing a new roster of chief executives. Meanwhile, Desrochers and the AICQ are working hard to restore confidence between the association’s engineering firms and their partner clients. She was shocked by the Charbonneau Inquiry revelations, but points out that it is only a few individuals who have been implicated out of perhaps 20,000 employed in the consulting engineering industry in Quebec.

But the Inquiry, police investigations, and media reports have taken their toll. The whole atmosphere of doing business has changed, and engineers who were once long-time trusted advisors to their clients, are now sometimes kept at arm’s length and viewed with scepticism.

Desrocher’s chief concern is that Quebec will lose many of its engineering company head offices. She fears it would leave a big hole in a province that has been very proud of its engineering companies for 50-60 years. Her association wants the government to start looking ahead and start planning for a future after Charbonneau. The government needs to realize that engineering companies have to maintain their team expertise, and that they can’t switch it on and off at short notice. Furthermore, in order to attract investors for the mining and resource sectors, the province needs to show it has a strong engineering sector available.

“The wind will change,” Desrochers says hopefully. And on that note, an AICQ survey last year found that 83% of the young professionals want to continue working in the consulting engineering sector. Part of the reason they are still loyal is that they see the companies making big organizational changes at the top and instituting ethical policies to keep themselves on track. Corporate ethics policies do have their value, it seems, even if they’ll never be a foolproof defence against the temptations of self-interest.


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