POLITICS

Montreal awards pothole contract despite firms being named at corruption inquiry

04/05/2013 01:46 EDT | Updated 06/05/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Fill the potholes first. Ask the questions later.

That's the position the City of Montreal has taken despite an online poll suggesting residents favoured the opposite approach.

The city recently asked residents to choose between having more potholes or sign off on a city contract for asphalt that includes dealing with construction firms named in an inquiry looking into corruption scandals in Quebec.

Although 60 per cent of citizens who voted opposed dealing with the firms, city councillors held their respective noses and voted in favour of the contract at an emergency meeting Friday.

The final tally was 58-0, with security cited as the overarching issue.

''It's a difficult situation for the elected officials, but you have to realize for the security of Montreal, for the economic development of Montreal, it's important that we go forward," said Mayor Michael Applebaum.

Council had rejected the proposal a few weeks ago ahead of a mid-April deadline that would have seen the city's asphalt supply dwindle to zero.

When Applebaum asked residents on March 22 to pick between the two less-than-inspiring options, he never said the results were binding.

On Friday, Applebaum said the 60-40 split involved 5,200 voters.

"(The results) shows very clearly the dilemma that elected officials have," he said.

"But we cannot stop filling potholes and giving out contracts."

While the executive committee had originally voted last month to pass the contract, council rejected it because the consortium to be awarded the $5-million pothole contract included three companies named by the Charbonneau Commission inquiry looking into corruption in public works contracts in the province.

For the two-thirds opposed to making the deal, Applebaum reiterated he'll ask Quebec's financial markets watchdog to examine the companies and ensure they haven't violated any laws.

Louise Harel, leader of Vision Montreal, another municipal party, said being named at the inquiry isn't the same as being charged.

"We don't feel good about this, but at the same time we have to be responsible," Harel said. "If we have to choose, we'll choose the security of Montrealers."

Applebaum had been in favour of accepting the contract. The Quebec government had echoed his words, urging that the contract be granted and the aftermath dealt with down the road.

He said accepting the deal was the only real solution Montreal had.

One popular suggestion had been to get the asphalt from Ontario or outside of Montreal, but the mayor dismissed that scenario.

"We're talking about hot asphalt here, it's very expensive to ship it and at the same time, quality diminishes over time," Applebaum said.

"It's like ordering a pizza from Ontario and expecting it to get to my house hot — it doesn't work that way."