Finger pointing in city hall at explosive council meeting
Published Monday, October 22, 2012 11:15PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 23, 2012 7:02PM EDT
The anger that flared during Monday's city council meeting in Montreal did not diminish on Tuesday.
Opposition councillors continued to demand what Mayor Gerald Tremblay knew about bribery and corruption taking place during his multiple terms in office.
This week retired engineer Gilles Surprenant has told the Charbonneau Commission that bribery was common while he was an engineer, and that it extended all the way to the executive committee -- the top elected officials in the city.
He claims that as of 2005, a 3 per cent "tax" was skimmed off the top for city contracts for the executive committee.
Borough of St. Laurent Mayor Alan DeSousa, also a member of the Union Montreal executive committee, was furious, and said he was surprised that so many people seem willing to accept accusations made without any firm evidence.
"Allegations like this damage and dirty the names of everyone just with one sweep of the brush.
"What is astonishing is there is no effort made to provide proof, no effort made to provide substantive to prove it. I find absolutely unacceptable that people's reputations can be damaged so easily," said DeSousa, who has been on the committee for 11 years.
Also causing a stir are allegations that when bids on contracts jumped by 30 per cent starting in 2000, city officials were paid off to look the other way.
Surprenant said the city did a study on skyrocketing costs in 2003.
Opposition party Vision Montreal said they want a copy.
"This study would have shown a big increase - 33 per cent. We didn't understand why the mayor didn't act at that time," said party leader Louise Harel.
CAQ leader Francois Legault said both Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt and Tremblay have lost their moral authority.
"In the next few days, Mr. Tremblay and Mr. Vaillancourt should think about their future, because right now I'm not sure they have the credibility and support to do their jobs correctly," he said.
Multiple calls for Tremblay to resign
The anger began on Monday's meeting, the first since explosive testimony at the Charbonneau Commission revealed allegations of kickbacks inside city hall, began with calls for the mayor to resign.
Vision Montreal accused Tremblay of doing nothing about corruption and collusion in his 11 years as mayor.
Tremblay, who did not take the accusations lightly, was clear on his stance about the calls to resign.
“I will not step down,” he told council, then pointing the finger back at opposition Vision Montreal and leader Louise Harel’s former right hand, Benoit Labonte.
Labonte was forced to step down during the last municipal election campaign following allegations he accepted a large sum of cash from notorious former construction boss Tony Accurso.
Prior to his joining Vision Montreal, Labonte was a member of Tremblay's party, Union Montreal, and under that banner was elected mayor of the Ville-Marie borough. He was also on the Executive Committee.
Union Montreal passes motion supporting mayor
After that initial debate, the mayor's party tabled a number of motions, including a declaration in support of his administration's fight against corruption and collusion. It passed 35 to 15.
Project Montreal council members did not take part in the vote, instead walking out in protest, with leader Richard Bergeron saying he's tired of the finger pointing.
“Mme. Harel, M. Tremblay, Vision Montreal, Union Montreal. We are a clean party. We have nothing to do in this room during this debate,” he said.
Meanwhile, Harel called Union Montreal's moves to clean up corruption too little, too late.
“Now they want to do everything in one day. This rush is very suspicious,” she said.
Executive committee member Marvin Rotrand said he thought Harel had ulterior motives.
“I would suggest that they are more concerned about their own partisan interests in getting elected than they are about allowing the Charbonneau Commission to do its work properly and get at the truth,” he said.
The parties did, however, agreed on one issue: a motion to ask the Quebec government to reform Bill 35, a bill that closes loopholes that would allow construction companies convicted of fraud to start up again as new companies and continue bidding on public contracts.
Rotrand insists Vision Montreal is intent on a crackdown.
“If there's collusion and corruption and it's criminal, people need to go to jail,” he said.