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Quebec wants to recuperate sums it lost to fraud and corruption

QUEBEC CITY – For months, Quebecers watched as witnesses at the Charbonneau commission laid out a near-perfect system of corruption. Quebec is now ready to strike; Bill 26 aims to recover millions of public dollars from fraudulent individuals and corporations.

“If you come forward and you admit that there’s been over billing, you know, send a message that you’re seeking your commercial rehabilitation,” said Quebec’s justice minister Stéphanie Vallée.

The Couillard government is taking up where the PQ left off last year, but this time widening the scope of the bill to include corporations in all sectors, not just construction. The government is giving companies one year to come forth, voluntarily, before it launches civil lawsuits.

“There’s not much advantage of going to court if you consider the length, the delays and the costs,” Vallée said.

But how much can the province really hope to recover? And why wasn’t the amount in Tuesday’s economic update?

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“We expect to get back some important sums through this program but we prefer to take that as a bonus that we will have beyond what we have already put on the table for the next fiscal year,” said Treasury Board president Martin Coiteux.

The CAQ didn’t find the bill very serious.

“In the forecast tabled yesterday, the objective is to recuperate zero from these companies. So how can you pretend to be really determined to get some money from SNC-Lavalin and Dessau if you don’t have any objectives,” asked Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) leader François Legault.

The PQ agreed it’s too little too late.

“We have asked that this project of law be adopted months ago,” said PQ justice critic Alexandre Cloutier.

The CAQ estimated the government could recuperate $300 million if it forced companies to pay up before obtaining any new contracts. The party suggested the government use that money to balance its budget, instead of asking Quebec families to shoulder the burden.

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