MONTREAL – One day after the re-election of a civic administration awash in scandal, there was a flurry of promises Monday to clean up corruption at Montreal’s city hall.
Mayor Gerald Tremblay announced he would suspend construction contracts until there’s a more transparent system for awarding them.
He was elected to a third term over the weekend despite numerous accusations that construction companies – in collusion with the Italian Mafia – are funding political parties and boosting the cost of building projects.
The province’s elections body said it would announce details Tuesday of a citizen’s forum on political fundraising, raising the prospect of changes to the way parties are financed.
And the provincial government promised to introduce changes in the way municipal contracts are awarded.
Premier Jean Charest denied a report, however, that he would go so far as placing Montreal under trusteeship.
There were numerous expressions of disgust throughout the city at the state of municipal politics – and demand for action.
Some expressed frustration that a voter turnout below 40 per cent, along with a split in the opposition vote, could have allowed a well-organized governing party to squeak out a victory.
The mayor’s path to victory was aided by a split in the protest vote, which allowed him to win by four percentage points while the two smaller parties divided the rest.
The opposition parties were also weighed down by considerable baggage.
Runner-up Lousie Harel, a former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister, was the architect of the province’s widely unpopular municipal mergers and has in the past made remarks that angered anglophones.
Her chances took a further hit when her party’s No. 2 man, Benoit Labonte, stepped down after admitting he accepted money from a businessman whose name has surfaced in the corruption scandal.
As for the third-place party, its leader is known for floating controversial conspiracy theories about 9-11.
Now that Tremblay has been re-elected, one newspaper columnist says the provincial government must do something to change the culture of corruption eating away at Montreal.
For his part, the mayor vowed to change things around city hall.
While the rest of the country pumps out stimulus dollars for infrastructure projects, Tremblay said he would suspend city investments until a better process of awarding contracts is found.
He promised to limit the municipal activities to essential needs “until we shed some light on the rumours of collusion and corruption” in the construction sector.
“My challenge as mayor of all Montrealers is to re-establish their confidence in their municipal administration,” Tremblay said.
A report Monday in a Montreal newspaper said the province might place the city under trusteeship to limit its control in awarding contracts. But Charest said he would not go that far.
Quebec has instead created a special police unit, and is promising legislative changes to change the way contracts are awarded.
“There was never any question of putting Montreal under trusteeship,” Charest told reporters.
“But there’s the question of awarding contracts that the Quebec government will want to examine with our municipal partners.”
Asked whether the province might seize Montreal’s chequebook, Charest only responded that the city would remain autonomous.
The premier said he plans to meet with Tremblay in the coming days to discuss the situation in Montreal.
Tremblay will also join the mayors of the nine biggest cities in the province to sit down with Quebec’s municipal affairs minister.
Canada’s most famous corruption-fighting judge said the province should go one step further.
John Gomery, the retired judge who presided over the federal sponsorship inquiry, wants a new inquiry into the construction business.
Calls for a probe have faced resistance from the provincial and federal governments but, with Montreal’s mayoral race over, Gomery says it’s time to reconsider.
“I think that he (Charest) was respecting the electoral process in Montreal,” said Gomery, who advised one of Tremblay’s rivals during the election campaign.
“But now that the election is behind us I really hope that he will give immediate consideration to this.”