The unit served 70 search warants and recovered $438,000. The former mayor of Laval, Que., Gilles Vaillancourt, is among those arrested. Officers also arrested former construction entrepreneur Tony Accurso and former Dessau Engineering executive Rosaire Sauriol in a provincewide sweep.
Both the governing Parti Québécois and provincial Liberal party say the operation proves that recent efforts to crack down on corruption are working.
Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron says watching public figures being arrested may fuel some public cynicism, but he predicts confidence in public institutions will grow in the long run.
"We have put in place some bodies that are working and this morning we have the proof," says Bergeron.
Bergeron says the Parti Québécois has been working hard to pass laws that make it more difficult for public officials and businesses to break the rules.
"It's not a victory for our government," he says. "It's a victory for our democracy."
The Quebec Liberal party's official opposition critic for public security, Robert Poëti, says the Parti Québécois government should give credit to his party, instead.
"Mr.Bergeron makes me laugh. What Mr. Bergeron should say this morning is 'thank you to the Liberal party for putting UPAC in place,'" says Poëti.
In 2011, Quebec, then led by the Charest Liberals, created UPAC in response to questionable practices in the granting of public works contracts.
Poëti says despite the sweeping arrests today, Quebeckers must be patient with the results. The former Sûreté du Québec officer says the words "fast" and "perfect" do not go together when it comes to police investigations.
Duchesneau says Laval arrests took too long
Coalition Avenir Québec MNA Jacques Duchesneau says arrests in Laval should have come sooner. He says politicians have dragged their feet when it comes to fighting corruption in Quebec.
The former Montreal police chief and anti-corruption investigator says when he was looking into these matters, there was a lot of suspicion surrounding public officials in Laval.
He applauded UPAC officers for their arrests today and listed several organizations that he says have failed to make similar progress.
"The municipal affairs department went there to investigate. They came out empty handed. The DGE [Quebec's chief electoral officer] also did some investigations. The SQ did some investigations, and they went nowhere," says Duchesneau.
Duchesneau says he was surprised that more people in Laval were not arrested in the UPAC raids.