Ville-Marie blacklists builders in bid to nail down scandal-free contractors

Martin Patriquin takes a closer look at the list of bold-faced names

Ville-Marie is Montreal’s bustling downtown borough, home to city hall, the financial district and some 80,000 souls. It is also home to a conundrum typical of Montreal’s corruption-addled construction industry: there are fewer and fewer companies with which the borough can do business.

According to a document obtained by Maclean’s, Ville-Marie has blacklisted more than 80 companies and their affiliates from bidding on contracts with the borough—including four of the province’s largest engineering consulting firms and some of its most prominent construction companies.

The document, dated July 22, 2013, warns borough officials — in capital letters — to check potential contractors against the list to ensure its owners “haven’t been found guilty within Quebec’s borders of collusion, fraud or acts of that nature.”

It includes a list of names of people forbidden from bidding on contracts. It includes Bernard Trepanier, onetime fundraiser for Union Montreal, the party of former mayor Gérald Tremblay and former interim mayor Michael Applebaum. (Tremblay resigned last November; Applebaum, his interim successor, resigned following his arrest on fraud charges in June.)

It also includes former city bureaucrat Gilles Suprenant, who in October testified that he took some $700,000 in bribes from construction and engineering companies doing business with the city. Giuseppe Borsellino and his company Construction Garnier, which received 29 contracts from the city between 2006 and 2012, also make an appearance. Investigators tracked Borsellino’s frequent visits to Café Consenza—a known hangout for the Rizzuto crime syndicate, as well as his frequent cash payments to public officials.

There are other noted bold-faced names. SNC-Lavalin Inc., an affiliate of the largest engineering firms in the province, is blacklisted from bidding. As are Dessau, BPR-Triax and Genivar. Altogether, these engineering consulting firms employ some 13,000 people and generate billions of dollars in annual revenue in Quebec and abroad.

The city’s mounting difficulty in finding scandal-free businesses with which to do business is perhaps best illustrated by the case of Dessau. In March, vice-president Rosaire Sauriol testified how his firm colluded with SNC-Lavalin, CIMA+, Genivar and SM to fix contracts, as well as illegally fund various provincial political parties.

Sauriol resigned not long after his testimony; his absence, and that of Dessau, reverberates to this day. According to the Montreal Gazette’s city contract database, Dessau received roughly $51 million worth of contracts between 2006 and 2012, along with another $66 million in partnership with other firms. Sauriol oversaw huge swaths of the industry, including nearly every soil analysis firm in the city. “The fact that certain companies were banned from bidding on contracts has made things a little more complex, but we are finding people to work with, even if it is causing certain delays,” said Ville-Marie spokesperson Annik de Repentigny.

Dessau is apparently in worse straits. The company has been blacklisted by the provincial government as well, after the Parti Québécois enacted a law forbidding bidders from firms convicted of or having admitted to fraud. In June, Rosaire’s cousin Frédéric, a Dessau employee, wrote an open letter to Premier Pauline Marois saying the firm’s survival “was a matter of days” if it was prevented from bidding on provincial contracts. Despite the ban, a Dessau affiliate recently secured a rock-and soil-analysis contract for the new Champlain Bridge project. (Dessau didn’t return requests for comment.)

Ville-Marie isn’t the only Montreal borough to blacklist certain companies. As La Presse recently reported, at least six other boroughs have done the same; in total, according to the paper, 26 companies have been barred. According to city spokesperson Philippe Sabourin, there are 20 individual blacklists on the island—one for each 19 boroughs, along with the city itself. Though the city’s blacklist, provided to Maclean’s on Friday afternoon, is virtually identical to that of Ville-Marie’s, some companies could theoretically be banned in one borough and not in another. Chalk that up as another Montreal oddity.