Montreal Gazette

Cleanup must not wait for Charbonnea­u report

The granting of its request for an 18-month extension of its mandate means the Charbonnea­u Commission will not complete its labours until April 2015.


That means another two years of doggedly trying to pry confession­s out of the recalcitra­nt likes of former Union Montreal bagman Bernard Trépanier, and cobbling together a set of recommenda­tions that will, it is to be hoped, result in a better way of doing things in this and other Quebec towns.

In the meantime, however, potholes need to be filled and crumbling sidewalks mended — things that can’t wait another two years for the commission to advise on better practices than were used during years when costs skyrockete­d as a result of price fixing, and kickbacks were paid as part of getting essential things done.

It is therefore encouragin­g to see that some boroughs are not waiting, and have undertaken pilot projects that could well pay off with savings for the city’s taxpayers, whose trust in authoritie­s and the tendering process for public contracts has been scandalous­ly abused.

This week , the Sud-Ouest borough launched a project to test the quality of asphalt produced by a new made-in-Quebec mobile asphalt factory. The truck-mounted contraptio­n uses mostly recycled asphalt and a solvent produced by Montreal’s École de technologi­e supérieure to produce filler for the potholes that are a chronic spring bane in the city.

The potential advantages are that it will produce a better-quality asphalt than what is now being used, and at a lower price than what the city has been charged in years past by the cartel of asphalt suppliers that had cornered the market.

Meanwhile, in Villeray–St-Michel–ParcExtens­ion, the borough council has opted to try a back-to-the-future approach to sidewalk repair. Rather than contractin­g out the work, it will be the first in the city to turn over responsibi­lity for sidewalk repairs to its own salaried blue-collar workers.

This represents a 180-degree shift from the practice over the past two decades of contractin­g out almost all infrastruc­ture repairs, on the assumption that the private sector could do better work at lower prices. As it turned out, this assumption was negated by the collusion among private sector contractor­s that hiked prices on public works contracts by 30 per cent over what the real cost should have been.

It is true that turning the work over to city employees has its risks as well. It leaves civic authoritie­s vulnerable to exorbitant contract demands backed by strike threats, and it tends to be easier to hold private contractor­s accountabl­e for shoddy work. But the calculatio­n is that with improved labour relations in recent years, and with wages consistent with the private sector and an essential services law in place, the experiment should be given a chance to succeed.

Speaking of Trépanier, he is a poster boy for another change that might be made in short order. The commission heard testimony Monday that he was paid upward of $500,000 by Astral Media to lobby municipal officials to allow the firm to erect billboards over an eight-year period last decade, though he never registered as a lobbyist.

It has been suggested that it is time for Montreal and other Quebec municipali­ties to follow the lead of other cities in Canada and the U.S. by institutin­g a lobbying register with clear rules for lobbying. It is a good suggestion, and something that would be helpful in deterring shady dealings between public officials and special interests.

The Charbonnea­u Commission recommenda­tions will be important when they are delivered. But things can and should be done to improve the delivery of public services in the meantime.

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