Sea to Sky Highway Shadow Tolls and the insidious relationship between the BC Liberals and long time, private partner Macquarie. The same partner that oddly, still managed to keep a position as advisor to the Port Mann project after a failed P3 bid, the terms of which remain secret to this day.
Tercon vs British Columbia, a landmark case where the Ministry of Transportation and several high level government employees altered documents and hid details to purposely rig a bid and give a large contract to another ‘ preferred’ bidder.
Throughout these stories, there remained a dark undercurrent that repeats itself time and time again. In many stories, there are what I would consider clear indications of unethical and questionable behavior that lean towards collusion and influence of officials, both crimes in Canada under the competition bureau and of which I have previously written. Yet we see no investigations. Business continues as usual, from Gordon Campbell onto yet an even more disastrous leader who has openly discussed her relationship with a powerful man who remains on the Board of Directors for SNC Lavelin – while the company has ongoing contracts and new bids outstanding.
This is how it works in British Columbia, with the BC Liberals.
This is the, in your face, we do what we want, way of doing business that everyone seems to have no problem with in the provincial government, that spans all ministries - none have been exempt from scandal or inference of preferred bidders. People like myself rely on close sources and data-mining to acquire evidence and documentation of contract and project details kept hidden from the public, since most FOI requests result in pages of useless redacted information.
Earlier this year, CBC did a brief story online, on a study conducted by the ministry of Public Safety into corruption in the construction industry in B.C. and in Quebec. The only real details given to the press on this report,which was not released, were that very few wanted to talk about the issue of construction corruption in B.C. , and that the industry overall was at a medium to high risk of corruption.
Imagine that. So few of the people or organizations contacted wanted to talk about this issue of corruption in commercial construction – and by association of public sector projects, the government – that it made it difficult to get a firm vision of what is going on. In fact, the report relied on many anonymous sources in some instances to get the information needed to make an assessment.In spite of this aura of reluctance and opposition to prying questions, the report did manage to uncover some revealing ways our public projects are at risk for corruption… and the way our government makes this possible.
The report in question was released informally to me recently following an FOI request, and confirms much of what I have reported here in many stories over the last few years. I recommend a read of the entire report, for the insight it offers into the problems facing large public projects here in B.C.
Here are some highlights:
- Investigators found that the most vulnerable aspect of the commercial construction process, including public projects, was the procurement process ( bid process) and project management. Sources indicated officials responsible for procurement were often uninformed about the cost of construction project costs and the lack of accountability and transparency in the bidding process across Canada was noted.
- Investigators found many factors that contributed to an environment where bribery and fraud flourished and were nearly impossible to detect,including the large scale of public projects,the uniqueness and complexity of projects,the concealment of some items of work by others, the lack of transparency in the industry and the extent of government involvement.
- Situations that facilitate the formation of construction cartels and bribery, included the size of the project. Some projects like dams, power plants and highways that are extremely large in nature and costly,making it easier to hide bribes and over inflated claims. It was also noted these larger projects often have a limited number of bidders, and those bidders are often well known to public officials and other bidders, again facilitating bribes and cartels.
- Lack of transparency - costs are often kept secret even when public money is being spent. Commercial confidentiality takes precedent over public interest, and publication of financial information and routine inspection of books and records which could uncover irregularities or prevent them, does not take place. ( in the case of the Sea to Sky highway project, companies participating in the project had to sign confidentiality agreements preventing them from talking about their involvement in the project in some cases, for up to 7 years, as you can read in the Sea to Sky shadow toll series on the Best Of page at the top of my site - Laila)
- The extent of government involvement- There is significant government involvement in public projects. Even private sector projects require government approval at different levels. the power wielded by government officials in every stage of the construction process,when combined with the structural and financial complexity of these projects, makes it quite easy for unscrupulous government officials to extract large bribes from those undertaking the projects.
- The impact of corruption in projects goes beyond bribes and fraud, to poor-quality construction and low funding for maintenance. Because much of the infrastructure is hidden behind concrete or brick, builders can cut costs, bribe inspectors to approve sub-standard construction leading to poor quality construction. ( In Quebec, years of this kind of construction on public infrastructure is creating a problem for the province, with crumbling bridges and overpasses that need extensive rehabilitation. Will we see the same thing happen here in British Columbia with some of our major transportation and infrastructure projects? Certainly many projects have already shown evidence of substandard quality, via the expansion joints on the William R Bennett bridge in Kelowna, and the ever collapsing retaining wall on Lougheed, part of the Port Mann project. – Laila)
- Sources in British Columbia indicated that government officials responsible for the procurement process ( tender and bidding process) lack the required experience in relation to the commercial construction process. Many who did have the experience retired or moved onto the private sector. Government officials often failed to follow their own procurement policies. ( I have explored this in detail on a previous post, where a source revealed to me that often, the officials in charge of a project will rely on employees of a bidding company for direction, via hiring them as a consultant in the process. Fairness reviewers deemed with examining the bid process for fairness, are often seen as being in a perceived conflict via work with the government on other projects- Laila)
It is simply not acceptable, nor is it in the publics interest, to allow often incompetent, and more often unethical business practices to continue within the B.C. government. It absolutely must stop.
In 2010, in following final ruling of the decade long Tercon vs. British Columbia court case, I said the following:
“.. What is needed is a full and independent inquiry into the actions of the government then, and now, to reveal the truth of what is going on in that portfolio. If the government intends to stand by its claim of administering an honest and open government with integrity, let it start with the Basi-Virk trial upon our doorstep, and end with the Tercon Judgement. The integrity of the entire bidding process, the future of local industry in our province, and what little faith we may have remaining in our elected officials, depends on it.”
That was 2010. As we know, the Basi-Virk trial was shut down faster than a bear trap snaps its victim, and while Vaughn Palmer picked up the Tercon story, the government denied and ignored any lingering questions.
Two years later, we find ourselves with a premier who campaigned on bringing open government to the people and then quickly revealed herself as being more secretive than Campbell ever was. A premier who mandates transparency and accountability to ensure tax dollars are being spent wisely to give British Columbians a better quality of life… but applies that mandate selectively, targeting her foes and protecting her friends.
I say now, that this report bolsters and supports my repeated calls for a full investigation and public inquiry into the public procurement process within all ministries of the government of British Columbia, and the sooner the better.
To do anything other, is to condone corruption within government by our elected officials -a concept which should have never been tolerable in the first place.
Public Safety Construction Corruption Report PDF format ( I will be happy to email you a copy of this report upon request)