Emergency meeting on water-meter scandal
Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay has called an emergency session of city council for Tuesday morning to deal with a growing scandal over a massive water-meter contract that has become mired in conflict-of-interest allegations.
The mayor says he'll release "all relevant information" on the $355 million contract that he suspended following questions about former executive committee member Frank Zampino and one of the firms involved in the contract.
The deal had been granted two years ago to a consortium involving a company belonging to controversial businessman Antonio Accurso.
Not only did Zampino vacation on Accurso's yacht while serving on the executive committee but Zampino later was hired by a firm that was co-managing the water-meter contract with Accurso's company.
What's more, the Canada Revenue Agency is currently investigating three of Accurso's companies for tax fraud.
Last week Zampino said he had quit the engineering firm, called Dessau. He blamed the media for the firestorm but also acknowledged he should not have taken the yacht vacation.
Tremblay has asked the city's auditor-general to examine the water-meter contract, which is the largest of its kind ever awarded by the city. It has emerged that Montreal might have overpaid by up to $150 million.
In light of the water-meter scandal, the mayor is asking Premier Jean Charest to create an independent ethics commissioner, though Tremblay has so far refused to draft a code of ethics for his own city.
The mayor also says he'll set up a telephone line for anyone wanting to report possible fraud or wasteful spending in the city. Tremblay has not said, however, if he'll launch a public inquiry into Zampino's actions.
The scandal could overshadow Tremblay's bid for re-election later this year.
Longtime city-affairs columnist Henry Aubin says the only way for the mayor to get closure is to hold a full-fledged public inquiry. Aubin says the probe should not only examine the water-meter case but the entire relationship between the public and private sector in Montreal.
"There's much too much proximity between city hall and the private sector," Aubin told CTV News on Saturday.
"You have to wonder whether so-called public servants are really serving the public or their own interests."
Aubin said he'll give Tremblay the benefit of the doubt about whether he knew about Zampino's relationship with Accurso.
But he adds the mayor is well aware of the "ethical climate in city hall."
Aubin noted that in Tremblay's first mandate 302 companies gave contributions to the mayor's party and 94% of them subsequently received city contracts.