MONTREAL - Montreal's mayor abruptly cancelled two public events, including what was to have been a major speech outlining his economic legacy later this week, while his embattled administration was rocked Wednesday by a corruption crisis.
The reason for the speech cancellation? According to an event organizer, it was because Mayor Gerald Tremblay feared his message would have been ignored.
The cancellations appeared unlikely to dissuade critics who accused Tremblay of no longer being morally capable of running the city.
Even the provincial government appeared to side against the mayor, with the municipal-affairs minister expressing outrage that Tremblay had dared to increase property taxes by 3.3 per cent this week in the midst of its crisis of legitimacy.
The mayoral no-shows occurred with the clock ticking down to a crucial deadline: If Tremblay quits before Nov. 3, one year ahead of the next municipal election, an early vote for the mayoralty will be held. If he quits afterward, according to provincial law, he can be replaced by city council without an election.
The repercussions of that deadline could be felt far outside the city. In Ottawa, Liberal MP Denis Coderre hinted strongly Wednesday that he planned to leave federal politics to run for mayor. But he suggested that he planned to say nothing else on the subject for several months.
Events in Montreal, however, were moving quickly.
The mayor failed to show up at a planned press conference on culture Wednesday. And he announced that he would not deliver a speech Friday on his legacy, which some had interpreted as his potential swan song after a decade in office.
"I spoke to Mr. Tremblay this morning. He called to tell me he preferred to cancel Friday's event," said organizer Michel Leblanc, the president of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.
"The reality is that he thinks people aren't listening to his economic message. That's what he told me."
The events occurred one day after a witness testified at Quebec's public inquiry that Tremblay not only knew about illegal fundraising within his political party — but actually ignored it.
The mayor's spokeswoman said the two cancellations were unrelated.
Martine Painchaud said the mayor still planned to deliver a speech, eventually, on his legacy and his vision for the future of Montreal. But it would occur at a later date. Why the rescheduling? "Because of the current situation," she said.
As for his non-appearance at Wednesday's press conference, she said there was a last-minute change in the mayor's agenda but did not elaborate.
While those events were unfolding Wednesday, a lawyer was launching a counterstrike on behalf of the mayor's party.
The lawyer for Tremblay's Union Montreal party attacked a witness's character during cross-examination Wednesday. He grilled witness Martin Dumont about an old shoplifting charge and his pornography viewing habits.
At one point an inquiry lawyer leapt out of his seat and said: "Now we're getting into a smear campaign."
The intensely personal questions came one day after that same witness, a former organizer for Union Montreal, told the inquiry that the mayor stood up and left a meeting when illegal election spending came up.
A lawyer for the party, Michel Dorval, challenged the witness's personal integrity during cross-examination. He said Dumont was fired for stealing food when he worked part-time at a grocery store in 1999.
Dumont admitted that he was charged with shoplifting and said he received an absolution after pleading guilty.
Later the lawyer suggested that, in 2004, Dumont was forced to switch jobs because he was caught viewing pornographic material while working at city hall. He was a special youth adviser to the mayor at the time.
Dumont replied that, in fact, he left city hall to work for Tremblay's Union Montreal party as a political organizer because it was a promotion. His salary went from $50,000 to $65,000.
He suggested the pornography incident didn't phase his superiors all that much.
"Out of respect for the mayor I offered my resignation," Dumont said.
"It was refused."
Dumont later went on to work in federal politics, as an official in several ministerial offices and in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office. Dumont pointed out today that he passed the RCMP security clearance before being hired by the federal government.
At one point Wednesday, commission head France Charbonneau interjected and said Dorval had gone too far.
Later in the day, the inquiry heard from a civil servant — the second who has come forward at the inquiry to admit to participating in widespread corruption schemes and whose name has come up repeatedly in recent testimony.
Between those two witnesses, Montreal civil servants have now admitted to skimming more than $1.2 million combined from public-works contracts.
Luc Leclerc admitted to taking 25 per cent from the contingency costs on inflated bills construction companies charged on public projects. He said he had spent about $500,000 in ill-gotten cash over the years but couldn't say how much he had received.
He started by taking about 15 per cent of the so-called "extras" on contracts. During a golfing tournament he heard someone talk about taking 25 per cent and he resolved to raise his own rates. He said the 25 per cent was only a theoretical number — he usually just took whatever was given to him.
He also testified that he golfed several times with Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto. He called the Cosa Nostra don a charming and funny travel companion during their group golf vacation in the Dominican Republic in 1997.
He praised Rizzuto's golf skills and personality.
"He was an excellent travelling companion," Leclerc said, calling Rizzuto a true "gentleman."
Leclerc said he started accepting bribes and kickbacks around 1996.
The first one was a crisp, pink $1,000 bill slipped into a Christmas card. Those gifts would grow over the years, ranging from cash, hockey tickets and tropical golfing trips to smaller items like bath towels and even a ham from one construction boss.
Leclerc also admitted that Mafia-linked construction companies did work at his house and he never paid for it.
Leclerc appeared at ease as he began his testimony late Wednesday.
He said receiving bribes gave him a sense of power — and that he had no real need for the money because both he and his wife made good salaries.
He said he viewed the kickbacks as recognition for a job well done on his part.
He described the bribes a poisoned chalice. He said all that dirty money was difficult to spend, and he gave back $90,000 to authorities before testifying at the inquiry.
"It was a matter of conscience," he added.
Leclerc said that, as far as he knew, the rigging of contracts was going on outside of Montreal too — notably in the quickly expanding communities on the island's north shore.
He cited an example of a signalman on a site who appeared to know who would win a contract that hadn't been granted yet.
"When we've reached the point that the signalmen knew and, as far as I know, even the office workers and the secretaries too, just about everyone had heard about (collusion) at one point or another," he said.
Leclerc's testimony continues on Thursday.
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Quebec's corruption inquiry has heard an exhaustive history of the Italian Mafia -- how it was created, how it got into the construction business, and how pervasive it is. One witness, Italian-born criminology PhD Valentina Tenti, shared a document recovered by Italian police that purports to hold the "Ten Commandments" of the Sicilian Mafia, known the "Cosa Nostra" (Our Thing). <em>With files from The Canadian Press</em>
10. No Easy Meetings
No one can present himself directly to one of our friends ("amico nostro"). There must be a third party to do it.
9. Never Look At The Wives Of Friends.
8. Never Be Seen With Cops
7. Don't Go To Pubs And Clubs
6. Stay Available ALWAYS
Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty -- even if your wife is about to give birth.
5. Appointments Must Absolutely Be Respected.
4. Wives Must Be Treated With Respect
3. Be Truthful
When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.
2. Respect The Cash
Money cannot be taken if it belongs to others or to other families.
1. Keep It Exclusive
People who can't be part of Cosa Nostra: Anyone who has a close relative in the police, anyone with a traitor for a relative, anyone who behaves badly and doesn't hold to moral values.