Last Saturday, over 2,000 people crowded under Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s office at the junction of McGill College and Sherbrooke, protesting the provincial government’s response to recent allegations of corruption and collusion in the Quebec construction industry.
Similar demonstrations were held simultaneously in Quebec City and Sherbrooke, launching what has been dubbed “le Mouvement du 24 Septembre.”
The movement, organized primarily through Facebook, was formed ten days before Saturday’s demonstration in response to the Quebec anti-corruption squad’s report that was leaked to the media. The report reveals the corrupt state of the construction industry, according to a Mouvement du 24 Septembre press release.
“We emphasize the nausea and fatigue of the population on the inertia of the political elite in Quebec, and their inability to resolve important and urgent issues for many years,” stated the press release.
Patrick Poirier, one of the organizers of the movement, said the demonstration went “above and beyond [his] expectations.”
“Now, the movement is in your hands,” he told the crowd on Saturday in French.
“I am calling out to everyone here, to all the citizens of Quebec, to everyone in all the regions of Quebec,” Poirier continued. “We have to mobilize. We can’t wait for someone else to do something; we have to take initiative. We have to unite. We have to send a strong message, and that’s what we’re doing today.”
The anti-corruption report, headed by former Montreal chief of police Jacques Duchesneau, described – without naming specific people or companies – how Quebec construction firms conspired to rig bidding processes for public contracts and fraudulent cost overruns on construction sites.
The report alleged that companies would use excess funds to contribute to political campaigns, further tainting the provincial contract bidding process. Organized crime is also described to have “settled comfortably” into the construction industry, and launder money through construction projects.
In the wake of the Duchesneau report, Charest inflamed public opinion by declaring he would not hold a public inquiry, instead saying he would leave it to the police and the province’s own anti-corruption squad to investigate the construction industry.
“I have had enough of the corruption, I have had enough of the [theft] of our resources by Charest’s government,” said David Marquis, a Montreal primary school teacher at the September 24 protest, in French.
The Mouvement’s press release concludes by demanding four things of Charest: To begin an inquiry into corruption in the construction industry, to set up a commission to reform the democratic institutions in the province as well as the financing of political parties, to call a general election, and to resign.
Testifying in front of the National Assembly on Tuesday, Duchesneau emphasized the need for a public inquiry – paired with a closed-door enquiry to accommodate those who may fear reprisals for testifying publicly.
Yesterday, Charest informed the National Assembly he will “study” Duchesneau’s proposals. Charest also said he “would like to repeat that we gave [Duchesneau] his mandate,” according to the Montreal Gazette.
Province-wide polls indicate about 80 per cent of Quebeckers are in favour of a public inquiry.
“We need an investigation into construction,” said Marquis. “I can’t imagine how [Charest] can look at himself in the mirror and not laugh – because we need this to take back our social and democratic institutions.”
Léon de Montigny came from Verchères, about 45 minutes from Montreal, in order to attend the demonstration. He said Quebeckers have known about corruption in the construction industry – and had wanted a public inquiry – for years.
“This is one day in two years where we are asking Mr. Charest for a public inquiry,” he said in French. “We think that this will be the beginning of, what you call, a snowball.”
—with files from Jessica Lukawiecki