Collective Action for Integrity in Quebec's Construction Industry
The Quebec Construction Asociation has more than 6000 construction companies (voluntary members) active in the institutional, commercial and industrial sectors.
This initiative seeks to promote integrity and good business practices in the Quebec construction industry.
Crisis in the construction industry in Quebec has resulted in negative fallout that has been manifest through an increase in red tape for obtaining contracts, difficulties satisfying new requirements imposed because of the crisis, more obstacles to forming partnerships to work on the same project, and loss of reputation. The commission of Inquiry on the Awarding and Management of Public Contracts in the Construction Industry (the “Charbonneau Commission”), created with the stated purpose of unearthing evidence, exposing corruption and collusion strategies, protecting witnesses and victims, and ensuring better practises in the future, ” has been meeting in Quebec since 2011 and is due to table its final report in April 2015. Against this backdrop, the Association de la Construction du Québec (ACQ) has sought to take some proactive steps to fight corruption in the construction industry. In February 2013, a mandate was conferred to the research centre CIRANO to propose concrete measures to help:
• Promote ethics and integrity within the industry
• Allow entrepreneurs having adopted ethical practices to clearly signal that fact to the public
• Improve transparency
• Restore and shore up the confidence of all stakeholders in the construction industry.
The main objectives of this study were to:
• Propose a collective action model to combat corruption in Quebec’s construction industry that reflects the unique features of this industry, the regulatory environment, and the various stakeholders
• Define the structure and components of the integrity programme in terms of organization and delivery and the responsibilities of the various participating entities.
It has been inspired in part by the Bavarian construction industry federation’s EMB Programme, which has been implemented in Bavaria and throughout Germany.
This proposal for an integrity program for construction firms in Quebec seeks to apply a collective model that in its development has had special attention given to the socio‐political context, existing collective action models, the specific characteristics of the construction firms belonging to ACQ and, finally, opinions expressed by the entrepreneurs.The proposed integrity program is based on the following seven elements:
Voluntary participation:each firm will be free to decide whether to participate.
- A long-term program
- A three-phase application and accreditation process. Whereby any firm wishing to participate in the program must go through each of the following three phases:
- Phase 1: Application for accreditation
- Phase 2: Assessment process
- Phase 3: Accreditation and renewal process (a certification process could be set up during a later phase)
- Identification of the participating firms by means of a logo - each firm having been accredited by the integrity program would be authorized to use a logo designed specifically for that purpose. The logo would certify that the firm complies with the highest standards of ethics and integrity.
- Training and support program: all training and support programs required for the accreditation process could be provided within the existing structure of the ACQ’s cooperative training program.
- Accreditation by an external body: An external body should administer the critical phases of the program (accreditation, auditing, and renewals) in a fashion that is totally independent of the structure of the ACQ in order to safeguard the integrity and credibility of the process.
- Continuous improvement program: This program should be designed to accommodate regular improvements to the key processes (e.g., application, auditing, accreditation, training, support, etc.) to make it more effective and accessible to participating firms.
The robustness of the programme should be assured due to its drawing upon existing integrity programs that have proven their worth in similar circumstances. Some of the procedures in the proposed program could be simplified in order to accommodate the financial and human resource constraints facing small firms (which represent a majority of the members of the ACQ). Moreover, other features that are specific to the construction industry were factored into development of the integrity program, such as the use of temporary workers, for example.
As a next step, pilot projects have been set up with six firms having unique characteristics. These pilot projects should make it possible to standardize the integration of the ethics and integrity program into business administration practices, catalogue and analyze what the firms need from the integrity program, identify good practices and difficulties inherent in the administration, communication, and implementation of the program, and generate some documentation to support delivery of the program to all entrepreneurs.
As a rule of thumb, crises are perceived as the result of a confluence of undesirable events. The stakeholders who are caught up in a crisis tend to focus on putting out fires. The crisis in the construction industry in Quebec has come about for similar reasons: the high cost of work, the practice of intentionally incurring cost overruns and missing deadlines, and a lack of competition in the industry. However, any crisis situation also presents a unique opportunity to come up with new solutions that have the effect of rendering the industry in crisis more productive afterwards than it was before. A critical determinant of a successful recovery is how the crisis is managed. According to 75% of the entrepreneurs who responded to the survey put out by the research group and participated in the Focus Group, the best strategy is to be proactive and implement collective action to combat corruption.
The crisis in the Quebec construction industry has exposed the need for a thorough review of the industry’s entire integrity process, beyond cosmetic changes to codes of conduct. Rather, a program is needed that brings about sweeping changes. The culture of the construction industry needs to be revamped to begin building confidence between all the stakeholders in the industry in Quebec, and also with the general population. The proposed integrity program is inherently a long process that will change the culture within the industry, allowing firms with high standards of conduct to credibly signal that fact and rebuild the construction industry in Quebec. Setting up this type of program represents a unique opportunity for construction firms to be proactive and leaders within the industry and contribute new solutions by acting collectively.