Several Quebec companies beat deadline to sign up for reimbursement program

MONTREAL – More than a dozen Quebec companies stepped forward ahead of a deadline Tuesday with restitution plans for having obtained public contracts through fraud or other questionable means.

Those wanting to participate in the provincial voluntary reimbursement program have until just before midnight.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 14 companies had publicly stepped forward while an undisclosed number of others were also participating.

“Our office has been very busy over the last week,” said Francois Rolland, a retired judge overseeing the program.

By participating in the program, companies cannot be sued civilly over the contracts, but are not immune from criminal charges.

Sintra Inc. was the latest to publicly acknowledge its intention to participate in the program on behalf of several subsidiaries. Its confidential proposal involved an offer to reimburse money to Quebec’s transportation department and 11 provincial municipalities, including Montreal.

It joined other large players in Quebec’s construction sector that previously stepped forward, including SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC), Groupe Dessau, CIMA+ and Frank Catania Construction.

WSP Global (TSX:WSP) also acknowledged that it had submitted a confidential proposal.

The provincial government launched the program last November, which is aimed at recovering money paid in connection with public contracts dating back to 1996 that were obtained as a result of fraud or fraudulent tactics.

Under the reimbursement program, companies must pay at least 20 per cent of the contracts plus a 10 per cent administrative charge.

Rolland said he is prevented by law from disclosing any details of what is being offered. He refused to say if proposals are generous enough to satisfy public bodies including provincial departments, municipalities, hospitals and school boards.

A final tally of how much will be distributed and the names of the participants will be disclosed six months after the entire program winds up in November 2017.

Rolland said his job is to evaluate individual proposals before deciding whether to recommend they be approved by the province’s justice minister or affected municipalities.

He anticipates the next year will be very busy hammering out deals following negotiations and mediation.

Quebec’s restitution program doesn’t affect contracts in other provinces or those awarded by the federal government.