Laval Mayor Vaillancourt to step down temporarily amid scandal
Published Wednesday, October 24, 2012 6:36PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 25, 2012 7:21PM EDT
He has been at the centre of several corruption investigations and now the mayor of Laval has decided to take a break.
Gilles Vaillancourt made a surprise announcement on Wednesday evening that he is temporarily stepping down for health reasons.
He says his doctor recommends a period of rest, and after leading Laval for the past 23 years says he needs some time to think about his political future.
Vaillancourt is also asking for privacy.
Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault, along with many members of the Parti Quebecois caucus, thinks Vaillancourt made the right decision to take a leave of absence.
"He had no choice because yesterday there was a new piece in the puzzle and I think it was very hard for him, so I think he took a good decision yesterday," said Gaudreault, pointing out that the mayor's back was against the wall when it came to dealing with allegations of personal corruption.
Previous refusals to step down
It's a sudden change, because Vaillancourt has been accused of corruption before, and has always previously denied all allegations.
Three weeks ago the permanent anti-corruption squad (UPAC) raided his home. Vaillancourt said at that time "I will not be resigning, nor will I comment on the rumours and various remarks being made."
But at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the city of Laval issued the following statement.
"You will understand that in the past few weeks, several events have created a painful situation that is impacting the mayor's life. Given all of this and his doctor's orders, the mayor has decided to take a rest in order to properly reflect."
Vaillancourt will likely be reflecting on serious allegations of bribery, following allegations made by Lino Zambito at the Charbonneau Commission that Vaillancourt was skimming 2.5 percent of all construction contracts in the municipality that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two decades.
At the beginning of October UPAC raided Vaillancourt's homes, city hall, and several construction firms.
More raids were carried out during the month, including fresh raids conducted Wednesday by the anti-corruption sqaud at a number of banks including at least one in Laval.
There are reports the police raids are linked to tens of millions of dollars held in overseas accounts.
Allegations of corruption first popped up in 2010, when Bloc Quebecois MP Serge Menard and Liberal MNA Vincent Auclair said the mayor offered them excessive donations during their electoral campaigns. That prompted the provincial government to ask Vaillancourt to remove himself from the board of directors of Hydro Quebec, and Vaillancourt also stepped down from the Quebec Union of Municipalities.
Opposition parties want a permanent change
Opposition parties in Laval say a temporary leave isn't enough. They want the 71-year-old to vacate city hall.
"I hope that he will be gone for good. I don't know why he should come back," said Robert Bordeleau of the Parti au Service du Citoyen.
Emilio Migliozzi of the Mouvement Lavallois echoed that sentiment.
"It comes to a point where you know what, you've got to answer questions, and I think now thanks to the Commission Charbonneau and UPAC, now he won't have a choice but to answer."
Opposition parties do not actually hold any seats on Laval city council. For several years every seat on Laval city council has been held by the Parti PRO des Lavallois.