Quebec ready to put Laval under trusteeship
Published Friday, May 31, 2013 1:15PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 31, 2013 9:55PM EDT
MONTREAL - The City of Laval has asked to be put under provincial trusteeship and the province looks ready to accept the offer following mounting evidence that corruption, kickbacks and even violent attacks have long been routine in the city's municipal affairs.
Mayor Alexandre Duplessis said Friday that he has asked the province to grab the wheel of the city of 400,000, at least until the upcoming municipal election in November.
Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault later said in a press release that he will recommend cabinet accept the offer.
Duplessis also stated that he plans to serve out his term.
"I will continue my mandate. . . However, I remain realistic," Duplessis said. "The current context has me reconsidering my candidacy for the mayoralty in November."
He said that trustreeship would be in the best interests of Laval residents and made the request after meeting with Gaudreault, Laval city councillors and his executive committee.
"We concluded that in this really extraordinary context it was in Lavallois' interest to come up with a transitional solution," Duplessis said.
"(It) would allow us to ensure continued service to the public while also ensuring the continued management under the current municipal council."
Trusteeship will mean that the province's municipal commission will exercise supervisory powers over local decisions made in Laval, Canada's 13th largest city.
Under the rules of trusteeship, no decision of the municipal council will enter into force until the commission approves the minutes of the meeting at which it was taken and the municipal budget will require the approval of the commission to enter into force.
Duplessis also refuted testimony made by former city official Jean Bertrand at the Charbonneau Commission Thursday, which suggested that almost all city councillors in Laval had served as figureheads for illegal political contributions, including Duplessis himself.
The mayor did not specify what exactly he considered untrue in the testimony, however.
Duplessis has been serving as interim mayor after longtime Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt resigned following his arrest by the UPAC corruption squad last November.
Duplessis said Friday he is still negotiating the details of the trusteeship with the province. He spoke only in French and did not answer questions at the press conference held at 4:20 p.m. Friday.
Earlier Thursday, Municipal Affairs Minister Syvlain Gaudreault said the move must be considered in light of the grave allegations made Thursday at the Charbonneau Commission concerning every sitting member of Laval city hall.
Bertrand, the former organizer for the Parti PRO des Lavallois, said that for decades city councillors willingly took part in illegal fundraising for the party which was dissolved several months ago following the resignation of Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt.
The PRO party had proven remarkably popular since taking power under Vaillancourt in 1989, frequently winning every one of the 20-odd seats in Laval. Almost one-tenth of Laval residents were reportedly card-carrying members of the party, which had won every last seat in council since 2001.
Many challengers have tried their hand at battling the PRO juggernaut, including public speaker Rick Blatter who ran several times for mayor and once held a 45-day hunger strike outside of city hall in 2005 to express opposition to the way Laval was run under Vaillancourt.
Those opponents have to like their chances now that Vaillancourt and his councillors have been hit with such serious allegations and several candidates in the upcoming election expressed mixed emotions about the impending trusteeship when interviewed Friday by CTV Montreal.
“It’s a very strange situation. The minister says he’s a trustee in Laval and the mayor says 'I’m staying in place for another five months.' To do what? Collect the money?” asked Laval mayoral candidate Jean-Claude Gobe.
“He should have been responsible and he should have resigned on the spot,” said Emilio Migliozzi of Movement Lavallois. “It leaves a bit of a bad taste, but it’s one step ahead in leaving this old era behind us. Let’s move ahead and once more be proud of our city.”
Marc Demers, another member of the unelected Mouvement Lavallois, said that Laval city hall has broken the public's trust.
"How you can trust somebody who went public and said he wasn't aware of anything, and the evidence shows differently? How can you trust somebody who decided to cheat on the law?" demanded Demers.
Provincial opposition weighs in
In Quebec City, the opposition CAQ party and Quebec Solidaire had been calling for trusteeship.
"Every day brings a new horror story about the administration of the City of Laval," Coalition Leader Francois Legault said in a statement.
"With what we have learned recently forces the government to take exceptional measures to respond to an intolerable situation for the citizens of the third largest city in Quebec."
Meanwhile, the official Opposition Liberals in Quebec City suggested a further investigation was needed.
At this point there are no charges against Duplessis or any Laval councillors.
Former Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, along with 36 other men including Bertrand, were charged several weeks ago with fraud, money laundering, and gangsterism.
Police allege that Vaillancourt masterminded a decades-long scheme to skim tens of millions of dollars from every public works contract in the city of Laval.
Many people have testified before the Charbonneau Commission that collusion was rampant in Laval, not just among public officials, but also among private companies.
In previous testimony, asphalt entrepreneur Gilles Theberge even described how his car was rigged with a bomb when he went afoul of the cartel allegedly organized under Vaillancourt's watch.
Quebec's corruption inquiry resumes sitting on June 10 after a one-week break.
-With a file from The Canadian Press