5 Westman contractors charged with federal conspiracy offences linked to Manitoba Housing contracts

Five western Manitoba contractors have been charged with federal conspiracy offences for allegedly trying to defraud the provincial government of millions of dollars in contracts for fixing up social housing units.

A Competition Bureau investigation alleges five individuals manipulated at least 89 contracts awarded to them by the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation, according to a news release issued by the federal agency on Monday.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada filed a preferred indictment against the five contractors for allegedly dividing up the contracts for refurbishing social housing units among themselves.

Matthew Boswell, the commissioner of competition with the bureau, suggested the accused colluded to suppress competition, which “is a serious crime.”

“It results in higher costs for construction projects and is especially concerning when it comes to affordable housing,” Boswell said in a statement.

The contracts, valued at about $4.5 million, were awarded between December 2011 and February 2016.

The contractors have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud over $5,000 under the federal Competition Act, and under the Competition Act for conspiring to allocate contracts.

Four of the contractors are based in the Brandon area. The other is in Onanole, south of Riding Mountain National Park.

CBC News reached three of the contractors. Two declined comment and one stated he does not recall the contracts in question.

Manitoba Families Minister Rochelle Squires, who is responsible for social housing, thanked the competition bureau for conducting what she described as a thorough investigation.

She said the province has taken steps to ensure money allocated for social housing is spent wisely.

“Since 2015, all tendering in Brandon has gone through a public tendering process,” she said, adding that process applies to jobs that come in below the usual threshold for tending.

An external audit recommended the change, she said.

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