Laval’s scandal-plagued mayor resigns
Published Friday, November 9, 2012 2:03PM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 9, 2012 9:31PM EST
MONTREAL—In one memorable, scandal-plagued week, no less than one-quarter of Quebecers have seen their mayor resign under a cloud of suspicion.
The head of the province's third-largest city, Laval, announced his resignation Friday, just a few days after his Montreal counterpart tiptoed down the same political plank.
The cause: a public mutiny over corruption allegations.
It was a steep fall for Gilles Vaillancourt of Laval, who had been so electorally dominant over the course of a 23-year mayoral career that his critics would call him "the Monarch."
In a solemn resignation announcement, Vaillancourt lamented the current climate of suspicion in Quebec. He has in the past loudly protested his innocence and threatened to sue those who accused him of corruption. But on Friday, he protested less loudly.
He simply suggested that he had been hard done by.
"We are going through a very difficult, very painful moment as a society," Vaillancourt told reporters.
"All elected people, at all levels, are accused of all sorts of wrongdoing. We're hearing all sorts of things, we're facing allegations that without being proven can irreversibly change someone's reputation... I am one of these people, and I'm deeply hurt."
He suggested quitting was his only option: "Whatever I say or do... the damage (to my reputation) is done."
As he resigned, a protester outside city hall held up an anti-Vaillancourt sign while wearing mock $100 bills stuck to his jacket.
He was guarded by more than a dozen law-enforcement officers because of what the police said were threats to his personal safety. While police couldn’t confirm the threats, Vaillancourt was still flanked by officers as he read his resignation to a locked-down chamber.
During his succinct farewell address, the mayor touted his record in overseeing the development of a once-sleepy farming community into a bustling and fast-growing municipality. Vaillancourt is also widely credited for bringing the five-kilometre extension of the metro to Laval.
Political analyst Jean Lapierre says Vaillancourt was a man who got things done.
"As the mayor he was an example. And I mean he was involved with the Canadian Federation of Mayors, he was the one behind the whole, big infrastructure program and the gas tax so I mean he was very influential federally and provincially as well," said Lapierre.
He said he had always worked for Laval residents. Vaillancourt thanked journalists for their coverage during his career, then turned around and walked away without taking any questions.
Vaillancourt, 72, had been on sick leave since Oct. 24.
The provincial government saluted his decision Friday, saying it was time for residents to look to the future. A provincial opposition party, the Coalition, went further: it urged the government to send an independent observer into Laval to keep an eye on things, given that Vaillancourt's party dominates council since it won every seat in the last election.
Quebec's anti-corruption unit has closed in on Laval in recent weeks, raiding numerous engineering firms and businesses in addition to Vaillancourt's own home, condo, offices and his bank safety-deposit boxes.
Vaillancourt's name has also been mentioned in ongoing testimony before Quebec's Charbonneau inquiry into corruption. There are reports police discovered more than $40 million in overseas accounts that they were able to trace to the former mayor.
Former construction boss Lino Zambito testified that Vaillancourt received a kickback on contracts handed out in Laval. According to the contractor, the mayor pocketed 2.5 per cent of the value of every contract on the island north of Montreal. Vaillancourt has denied those allegations, as he has denied past allegations that he offered bribes to people involved in provincial politics.
When the allegations first surfaced two years ago, Vaillancourt was forced to step down from Hydro-Quebec's board of directors and the Quebec Union of Municipalities.
Unlike Vaillancourt, the former Montreal mayor has never been accused of personally pocketing money.
Allegations that Gerald Tremblay turned a blind eye to illicit financing of his municipal party prompted the Montreal mayor to resign this week. Tremblay denied that accusation, but said he was quitting for the good of the city.
Montreal still faces a leadership crisis, following his departure.
In Montreal and in Laval, there can be no snap municipal election under provincial law unless a mayor quits more than a year before the next scheduled vote. The next round of municipal elections will be held in Quebec next November.
—with files from The Canadian Press.