WQ School Board’s relations with contractors under scrutiny

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L. Robillard-Cardinal & Fred Ryan


L. Robillard-Cardinal & Fred Ryan

GATINEAU – The Western Quebec School Board has placed Colin O’Shea, the director of the school board’s business committee, on a paid leave of absence until questions raised by a Radio-Canada news investigation have been clarified. The issue is an apparent but unproven conflict of interest involving O’Shea and Marcel Raymond, who owns GMR Construction et Toitures Marcel Raymond of Gatineau. “We want to reassure the population and school tax-payers that the school board’s calls for tender are conducted in due form,” said Paul Lamoureux, WQSB Director General. The school board is still carrying out its investigation. “A third party will investigate and they will table recommendations to the executive,” confirmed Lamoureux, who’s in his first year on the job.
Radio-Canada has reported that the WQSB signed 31 contracts worth $33-million Raymond’s companies over the last decade. One problem for the English-language school board is that O’Shea, who signed many of these contracts, “acquired”, to quote Radio-Canada’s report, a condo in Hull at Saint-Joseph and Alexandre Taché, worth $700,000, from one of Raymond’s companies, something O’Shea omitted from his annual declaration of interest. This omission goes against the school’s board code of ethics, said Radio-Canada.
The chairman of the school board, Michael Chiasson, also signed these contracts, but no one has questioned his motives, as his signature as chairman “is a formality”.
According to the French-language news network, which is investigating the matter, Raymond’s companies obtained so many contracts in the past years with the WQSB that certain other businesses stopped bidding on calls for tenders from the school board because they knew what the outcome would be. One company submitted a complaint to Quebec’s Anti-Corruption Unit (UPAC). According to Lamoureux, Radio-Canada is the only group investigating this affair. UPAC has declined to comment on the affair. However, Raymond assured Radio-Canada he never gave O’Shea any privileged treatment whatsoever. “The rules are rigid and we believe we acted properly,” added Lamoureux, who wasn’t the only WQSB representative to comment on the story.
Although James Shea, a school board commissioner, did not attend any meetings on this subject, since he is not on the board’s Executive Committee, he is confident the WQSB will sort this out. “I fully expect that in the spirit of transparency and public trust the WQSB will cooperate fully in this matter,” Shea told the Journal.
Anonymous sources within the school board have told the Journal the question of O’Shea’s relationship with contractors was discussed “several months ago” by the council of commissioners when work done on O’Shea’s private home by one of the contractors doing business with the board was raised. At that time, O’Shea is said to have assured the commissioners he had paid standard rates for this work. Another member of the school board told the Journal he believed the price of the condo is so high that the sale must be examined, and that O’Shea’s claim to have paid the full price needs justification. “We’re looking for a paper trail,” he said. The subject will likely be part of the commissioners’ first fall meeting, September 24.
During the Pontiac’s struggle to save the McDowell Elementary School building in Shawville from being closed, several members of the public raised questions about the objectivity of Board administrators.