It is summertime in Montreal and that implies decrepit, broken roads and endless congestion as a result of omnipresent construction crews in the midst of repairing potholes left over by the spring thaw. It is also the time of the world famous Montreal International Jazz Festival but instead of the city revelling in music and laughter, it is being bombarded by the deafening sound of jackhammers on asphalt repair.
The astonishing fact, however, is that to build these wretched streets that are the root cause of innumerable major car repairs, taxpayers, on average, have been charged some 30 to 50 per cent more than those of neighbouring provinces and states with similar climactic conditions such as Ontario and New York.
For, as has been revealed at the hearings of the ongoing Charbonneau Commission investigating Montreal's construction industry, the awarding of city contracts has, for years, been dominated by a select, corrupt oligarchy involving kickbacks to political parties and payments to corrupt city officials. The inquiry, whose mandate was recently extended, has already brought about the resignation of Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay, the arrest of many of his closest collaborators and his interim replacement, Michael Applebaum, as well as the indictment of the mayor of the adjoining city of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt.
Having entered municipal politics after a distinguished career at the provincial level where he served as Minister of Industry, Gerald Tremblay was forced to resign this past November after 11 long years at the helm of the city of Montreal and after allegations of corruption surfaced at the Charbonneau Commission.
Tremblay's resignation landed Michael Applebaum, the chairman of Tremblay's Executive Committee, in the mayor's chair. Promising to bring transparency and honesty to City Hall, Applebaum created a stir for becoming the Montreal's first Anglophone mayor in a century. However, last week, he, too, was forced to resign, indicted on 14 counts, including fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust.
The Applebaum saga was preceeded by the spectacular arrest of Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt along with 37 co-conspirators on multiple charges of corruption and gangsterism. Vaillancourt ran Laval for an unprecedented 23 years, often without any opposition, before being forced to resign in disgrace last November.
So, as I drive through the city, desperately trying to avoid the deadly obstacles, I keep thinking about the very notion of corruption and how this beautiful city has become a beacon of mismanagement all around the world.
In looking for possible solutions, I believe the time has come for the National Assembly of Quebec to legislate a limit on a mayor's tenure in the province's cities. As in many other jurisdictions, two terms are more than sufficient for a leader to illustrate and realize the projects he or she wishes to enact whereas clinging to power for extended periods of time leads to cronyism and conspiracy as has been well demonstrated by the Montreal and Laval experience!