All of a sudden, what anyone with the faintest interest in Quebec has always known is out in the open. The province is overrun by mafia corruption, and now, a quarter of the province is mayor-less.
Montreal's former mayor, Gérald Tremblay, looking all bummed out.
On Monday, Montreal’s hapless, shaky, angry, and white-haired mayor, Gérald Tremblay, resigned in disgrace with his good name in tatters, his honor besmirched, and his legacy in the gutter. Across the river, suburban Laval’s mayor Gilles Vaillancourt is at home feeling a bit blue because cops keep raiding his home, while city hall, credit unions and engineering firms look for evidence of gross misconduct and corruption over city contracts. Why? Because it turns out—surprise!—the Mafia is balls deep in just about everything that gets built—and re-built, and then falls apart, and then gets re-built again—in Quebec’s heaviest population centre. In the span of a couple of weeks, a quarter of Quebec’s population is now mayor-free.
It’s no big surprise, really. Gérald had been fighting corruption allegations for years, always claiming that he knew nothing about any corruption seeping into Montreal’s municipal politics. Even the most casual city observer would call utter bullshit on that.
The mayor’s position really became untenable last week when a former top aide, Martin Dumont, dished the goods in front of the Charbonneau Commission, which has been overturning dirty rocks to uncover the filthy world of Montreal’s construction contracts. Martin Dumont’s testimony has been so good it’s almost unbelievable. He told the commission tales about a safe stuffed with so much cash it couldn’t close, and bureaucrats telling him not to mind inflated bids on city contracts. He also went on to discuss one of Gérald’s fundraisers Bernard Trepanier, also known as “Mr. Three Percent.” Bernard’s nickname comes from his take of the kickbacks, from public work deals, that went directly into the mayor’s party’s coffers.
Most explosive of all, was Matin’s revelation that the Montreal mayor was aware of illegal campaign financing and did nothing about it. That effectively blew a great big gaping hole in the mayor's oft-repeated—as recently as last Monday, when he resigned—excuse that he had no idea how widespread the corruption was. Listening to Gérald, who was generally seen as a nice enough guy and probably not personally dirty, insist that he was in the dark time after time, one can only reach two conclusions: the mayor was dirty, or he was clueless. Neither of which are good qualities for a guy who boasted that he was the province’s most effective extinguisher of corruption.
Martin Dumont spilling the beans.
Gérald's real headaches began back in 2008, when news investigations revealed that his number two guy from 2002 to 2008, Frank Zampino, had been cavorting aboard construction magnate Tony Accurso’s yacht, the Touch. Accurso is what you’d call colorful: he’s alleged to have ties to Montreal mob boss Vito Rizzuto, and he’s one of the top construction bosses in the province. Tony is fantastically rich. He would have got even richer if a $355-million water meter deal, destined for one of Tony’s companies, hadn’t been cancelled due to bidding irregularities in 2009. In 2008, Frank left city politics to go work for one of Tony’s companies. He resigned the following year.
Frank is also in trouble over the 2007 sale of primo city property worth $31 million, for the absurdly small sum of $4.4-million. The buyer in this case was Paolo Catania, who’s also been linked to the Rizzuto family, and is said to have a serious mean streak. He allegedly had the shit beaten out of a fellow loan shark, and supposedly close friend, who owed him money. Despite the low sale price, Frank came out of the land deal in decent shape. According to testimony at the Charbonneau Commission, he got a $300,000 cash gift and a quarter-mil worth of renovations done to his kitchen.
Frank, Bernard, Tony, Paolo and others were arrested last May, and each of them faces a slew of tax and fraud-related charges. All of them are proclaiming their innocence, and you can give Frank Zampino points for balls: he wants the city to pay his legal fees.
There’s more. Take the allegations of spying on the city’s auditor-general or the lavish, boozy parties that were billed to the city. Then there’s the sleazy campaign financing and dirty contracts to fix up city hall. To say nothing about the possibility of cronyism over any number of comparatively nickel-and-dime contracts that we never hear about.
Montreal’s mayor has been blubbering about “not knowing” for years. And you know what? It’s possible he didn’t, because he didn’t need to. While that may not make him an outright crook, it makes him something almost as despicable: a cynical, dishonest, small-time political huckster.