Municipal corruption in Canada: Water and grime
Jun 25th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Montreal’s mayor under pressure
BACK in the 1940s and 1950s Montreal was notorious in Canada for municipal graft. Recent allegations in Quebec’s largest city remind some of those days. The police have five separate investigations under way into suspected fraud, kickbacks and favours involving tens of millions of dollars. Two of the probes touch former sidekicks of Gérald Tremblay, the mayor since 2002. Few suspect that Mr Tremblay, with a long previous career in Quebec’s Liberal party, is crooked, and there is no evidence of that. But La Presse, the main federalist paper in Montreal and once a staunch supporter of the mayor, has twice called for him to resign. He shows no sign of doing so.
The scandals centre on construction firms thought to have underworld ties. The mayor’s chief of staff was suspended last year over allegations that he organised the sale of municipal property for a fraction of its real value. One 38-hectare site, valued at C$31m ($27m), was sold for C$4.4m to a developer who not long before had been photographed by police with Nicolo Rizzuto, an octogenarian mobster and father of Canada’s top mafioso. (The developer also has a record of evading taxes, issuing false bills and bribing officials.)
The second involves a C$356m contract to control water use by installing meters in commercial properties and by building underground valves. The contract went to a consortium led by Tony Accurso, an old friend of Frank Zampino, who headed the city council’s executive committee. Before and after the contract was awarded, Mr Zampino and his wife holidayed on Mr Accurso’s yacht. Mr Zampino then left politics and took a job with the other company in Mr Accurso’s consortium for a salary of C$400,000. La Presse has marshalled evidence suggesting that the works could be done for a third of the price. Mr Zampino has since resigned from his new job. Both men deny any wrongdoing.
The mayor has suspended the contract pending an audit. He has also rounded on La Presse, accusing it of “a hidden agenda” to get rid of him. After the paper this month claimed that a contractor repairing the roof of city hall was shaken down for a C$40,000 bribe, Mr Tremblay said: “It’s not up to La Presse to elect the mayor of Montreal, but the citizens.” Polls suggest that when they do so in November they may shun Mr Tremblay for Louise Harel, a left-wing Quebec separatist.