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Quebec consulting engineers object to allegations in newspaper article

The Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec (AICQ) issued an open letter in the Quebec French-language n...


The Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec (AICQ) issued an open letter in the Quebec French-language newspaper Le Devoir on October 28.

Written by Johanne Desrochers, President of AICQ, the letter objected strongly to articles appearing in Le Devoir that made insinuations about the relationship between AICQ member companies and the Quebec Ministry of Transportation (MTQ).

Following is Ms. Desrochers’ letter, translated into English:

MTQ-AIC Consultative Committee: an Incorrect Interpretation

(Open Letter published in Le Devoir, October 28, 2009)

The Association des ingénieurs-conseils du Québec (AICQ) represents 52 engineering firms that employ over 20,000 persons throughout Québec, i.e. over 90% of the consulting engineering industry’s workforce. Since its foundation, the AICQ has deployed considerable efforts to improve consulting engineering practices in Québec.

It is unfortunate that Le Devoir published, with much fanfare, articles in which it proposes a widely erroneous interpretation of an initiative that is fundamentally positive, i.e. the consultative committee’s meetings between the Ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ) and the AICQ. The articles omit a large quantity of information, which completely invalidates the suggested interpretation.

First, the allegation that this committee would allow a certain form of collusion is rather surprising since the MTQ awards consulting engineering contracts according to very stringent procedures and as part of proper tender calls, including multi-criteria evaluation grids and selection committees.

The following must also be highlighted:

  • The MTQ/AICQ consultative committee is not made up of a “select club of consulting engineering firms,” but of all members of the AICQ’s Transportation Committee, which is open to all members firms, whether large or small, working in the transportation sector;
  • the consultative committee’s meetings, which are organized by the MTQ, are far from secretive or private. The committee is composed of 30 persons or so, half of which are from the MTQ, and meeting minutes are forwarded to all participants;
  • this committee is only one of several consultative committees that the MTQ implemented with its main partners;
  • the main goals of the committee’s meeting are not to debate the MTQ’s strategic planning or specific projects, but rather to discuss issues raised by both the MTQ and the industry, and to improve the quality of professional services provided as part of the ministry’s projects. In this context, firms are not invited to “provide their point of view on the importance of carrying out one project over another”;
  • these meetings allow the MTQ to clearly specify its needs and requirements as a client. They also allow the MTQ to be transparent and to provide the same information to the entire industry at the same time, which in turn helps firms improve the quality of their services;
  • these meetings are also an opportunity to discuss alternative practices used elsewhere in Canada and abroad (where Québec’s consulting industry is also present), and which could be considered for Québec. This approach is both sound and constructive. Again, the fact that these exchanges take place within a formal and open framework should be reassuring;
  • finally, the existence of committees and meetings between the MTQ and the AICQ did not begin in 2004 as stated in Le Devoir. These committees and meetings have been held for at least 15 years since there is always a range of issues that the MTQ wishes to address as part of a global consultation framework with the consulting engineering industry, and vice-versa; the committee set up in 2004 is simply a more official form of exchange, which should be considered as positive rather than negative in terms of transparency.

 An erroneous interpretation of “open contracts”

As for the so-called “open contracts,” which are “on-demand contracts,” the articles are particularly off base. An open contract certainly does not suggest that a consulting engineering firm takes on the MTQ’s role in managing tender calls or selecting lawyers, accountants or contractors, or any other MTQ role for that matter. Engineering firms do participate (as has always been the case) in preparing technical tender call documents, but they are in no way the MTQ’S  “delegated work providers.” This allegation is false since the MTQ does not delegate its authority.

The MTQ’s “open contracts” are in fact a prequalification procedure of firms, by region, for smaller contracts whose value cannot exceed $200,000 and which meet several criteria stipulated by law, including the urgency of the required work.  In each region, projects meeting these criteria are awarded to prequalified firms in rotation, which avoids the lengthy tender call process and the creation of selection committees to award small contracts. The prequalification process is repeated every two years. This management practice is sound, fair and closely monitored. The value of these contracts is limited and represents only a fraction of the total value of engineering services commissioned by the MTQ.

Finally, with regard to the number and value of contracts awarded to consulting engineering firms between 2005 and 2008, it is surprising that Le Devoir fails to mention that the MTQ’s infrastructure investments increased from $1.4 billion to $3.7 billion between 2006 and 2008. It is therefore rather normal that the number and value of contracts awarded to consulting engineering professionals had also increased.

In summary, le Devoir proposes, with great emphasis, an incorrect interpretation of the facts concerning the consultative committee, even suggesting that the reader should see a form of collusion or an unhealthy “area of influence.” What is described as something negative is rather the result of a measure aimed at improving the response to client expectations, where the importance of quality work is the prevailing concern and principle. This is far from what Le Devoir insinuates.

Johanne Desrochers, B.A.A., caé

President, CEO and spokesperson

Association des ingénieurs-conseils du Québec