POLITICS

A dilemma for Montrealers: could less corruption mean more potholes?

03/22/2013 03:12 EDT | Updated 05/22/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Montrealers are now facing a bumpy dilemma on the road to clean government.

Residents of the city are being asked to choose between two less-than-inspiring options: Would they prefer more potholes in their streets? Or would they like to see a city contract going to some companies involved in corruption scandals?

Because it seems that, for now, it's one or the other.

The city administration is seeking citizens' opinion, with a survey placed online Friday.

"Now citizens have a choice," Mayor Michael Applebaum said.

"Do we go forward in awarding these contracts to companies where some people may have questions — or do we allow for these potholes to continue?"

Clearly, the mayor's sympathies fall on one side of the debate. He hopes citizens vote to put pressure on council to renew the pothole-fixing contract — even if that means some of that contract money falls into questionable hands.

Allegations of rampant corruption have seen city council rebuff plans to renew a pothole-fixing contract with Montreal's seven different asphalt suppliers.

Some of those companies have been named in the province's corruption inquiry, and there is a movement afoot in the province to shun any firm accused of wrongdoing.

But now, to nobody's great surprise, there's a catch: Applebaum says the contract can only be executed by all seven companies, or none at all.

He says the seven companies are strategically located around the city so that they can quickly deliver hot asphalt to fill in the potholes.

"The longer you are on the road with the asphalt, the more the asphalt deteriorates," said the mayor, after a photo op Friday where he made a point of filling in a pothole himself.

"You don't have a proper quality of asphalt."

He said handing out the contract would help ensure the security of drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

The pothole Applebaum filled in, with media cameras in tow, was located in Old Montreal a few metres from Club 357-C, a private gathering spot mentioned during testimony at the corruption inquiry.

An opposition councillor said it's not true Montrealers have no other choice.

Marc-Andre Gadoury said cold asphalt, supplied by companies outside Montreal, could be used after it's been heated up.

"There are other companies, there are other means of getting asphalt," he said.

But Gadoury admitted that would require installing a furnace in one of the city's facilities, which he said could take up to six weeks.

What's important is that the cartel of seven companies be broken up, said Gadoury, a member of Projet Montreal, one of the city hall opposition parties.

"If we keep awarding contracts to the same players that we see each day at the Charbonneau Commission, they will keep screwing us," he said.

"We think it's time to put a halt to this."

The proliferation of potholes is a long-running joke in Montreal, although many motorists are more likely to curse in anger when they get a hard jolt upon hitting one.

The city streets could soon be echoing with a louder chorus of profanity.

Montreal will run out of asphalt around April 15, unless the contract is extended, Applebaum said.

He also wants the provincial government to do its part to help smooth things over. He said he would ask the province to pass inspection on the group of seven companies that would supply the $5 million contract for asphalt.

"If they are deemed illegal and not allowed to provide the asphalt," he said, "then this contract will be cancelled."