Appearance of collusion between snow removal companies in Quebec
Residents report snow plows splitting from more and more territories.
In several cities in Quebec, residents allege that snow plows are dividing more and more territories between them. Consequence: it becomes impossible for the customer to negotiate prices and choose his snowplow.
Snow removal Serge Julien has been in business in Boucherville, Montérégie, for 10 years. Two years ago, a competing company offered him by text message to share the territory of a district.
Owner Serge Julien recounts the message received: This is Hélène, from Déneigement Van Velzen. Me, I'm getting ready to send my contracts from the Normandy sector soon. As I told you yesterday, I bought it. So, I wanted to know if you were interested in taking a certain part of the sector. And I would take the other part.
He remembers his reaction: I said no. I was not interested at all.
Déneigement Van Velzen declined to comment on the situation in Boucherville and denies the allegations of collusion.
Serge Julien wants Boucherville residents to be able to choose their snow plow.
According to the Competition Act, the division of territories and the fixing of contract prices are illegal in Canada.
Collusion is a criminal offense and if proven, a maximum fine of $25 million and 14 years imprisonment can be imposed on violators.
To find out if this proposal is legal under the Competition Act, the The Invoice team submitted it to the professor of business at TÉLUQ University, Benjamin Lehaire.
There, we are on an agreement for the distribution of the geographical territory. The fact of saying “here, I'm doing my contracts, we're there, I'm ready to divide the sector, I have a sector, you have one”, it's perfectly illegal, he says.
It's not just in Boucherville that there is an appearance of collusion. For the past two years, dozens of citizens from Drummondville, Alma, Nicolet and Laval have written to The Invoice on this subject. All allege that snow plows are separating from the territories.
In Prévost, Viviane Dagenais saw her snow removal bill increase by 77%.
To Prévost, in the Laurentians, Viviane Dagenais was amazed to receive a $650 quote from her new snow plow. Last year, she paid $367 with another company that has since gone out of business. She tried to find another snowplow, in vain.
“I called ten. The majority of them told me that they do not come to rue de la Station. They all have their own sectors, Lac Renaud, Lac Écho. Knife to my throat, I signed my contract for $650. »
— Viviane Dagenais, Prévost resident
Emmanuel Monette is Mrs. Dagenais' former snow remover. This year, he is only doing commercial snow removal. According to him, there is a division of territories between snow removers in Prévost.
He claims to have always refused to play this game and today he denounces the intimidation he says he suffered.
I received threats like: "Keep your territory, stay at home. We don't want you in our sector.” I have already been told that they have killed more than one in snow removal, that is to say that they have killed companies more than one times, he says.
Emmanuel Monette has given up snow removal at private homes.
The The Invoice teamcontacted snow removal companies in the region; only two answered the call. The brothers Alain and Denis Girard refuse to talk about a monopoly. They say no snow plows made any threats.
In Boucherville, Serge Julien has received hateful text messages since his son Nicolas became a snow plow.
Déneigement Nicolas Julien solicited clients in an area where Déneigement Lacombe works. The prices offered by Nicolas are $280 per entry, while Déneigement Lacombe charges $400 from its customers. A situation that does not please the company.
In a text message, Michel Lacombe writes: Nice mentality of cabochon, when I am at 400 $, to put that at 280 $. I could have lowered my prices, but you know what? I didn't, because I respect myself and I respect the job of snow removal. I'm here to make money, not to clear snow.
I do it honestly and not by cutting prices like you do, he adds.
The young Nicolas Julien wishes to persevere in the profession despite everything.
According to the professor Benjamin Lehaire, there is, in these text messages, the beginning of an infringement of the Competition Act. It is forbidden to fix the prices of contracts between snow removers.
Michel Lacombe refused our interview request, but by telephone, he denies the allegations of collusion and speaks instead of unfair competition on the part of Nicolas Julien.
For his part, Serge Julien wants consumers to be able to negotiate the prices of snowplows.
I want things to stop, so I have to report. I sincerely believe that the citizens of Boucherville have a right to competition, he declares.
The Competition Bureau declined to comment on the appearance of collusion in the snow removal industry.