In the wake of municipal elections plagued by scandals and allegations of corruption, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents the vast majority of municipal employees in Quebec, is demanding that the Charest government take immediate action to clean up municipal affairs regulations, notably those governing the project bidding process and party financing.
“It is critical that we restore municipal public and parapublic services to their rightful roles. It is clear to us that making legislative changes to the way municipality’s award contracts is not enough,” asserted CUPE Quebec director Michel Poirier. “We have to be able to justify the contracts awarded to external firms and establish the necessary safeguards to foil any attempts at implementing a system of cronyism or patronage.”According to the union leader, while it is imperative to restore sound contract awarding and municipal management practices, the methods announced thus far are insufficient and serve only as a smokescreen to keep those truly responsible from being identified and avoid a public inquiry into the municipal sector.
The minister has already announced a meeting in Quebec City to discuss ethics and the contract-awarding process. CUPE has asked to be included in these discussions. “We want to be there; we have a unique and vital perspective on the issue. Our 25,000 members have an inside view of what’s really happening with the contracts for snow and garbage removal, IT systems, and water meters.”
Municipalities are among Quebec’s biggest suppliers of contracts of every kind. “Given this, the least that should be done is to make sure these contracts don’t result in kickbacks and handouts to friends of the system. In recent weeks, public services have been shown to guarantee us fair prices, transparency, and accountability. What we need now is for the contracts awarded to external firms—and there’ll always be such contracts—to be above all suspicion as well,” added Michel Poirier.
Party financing to be reviewed
In the same vein, CUPE is also calling for changes to be made to the regulations on municipal political party financing. According to CUPE, this is often the source of contract allocation scandals. “Anonymous donors, companies that pay employees to make contributions to parties, $1,000-a-plate dinners, and the ability to hide the origin of 20% of funds raised—it’s all nonsense! Beefing up rules to promote popular and transparent financing is a critical first step toward cleaning house in municipal politics,” the director of CUPE Quebec concluded.