MONTREAL – This has been a discouraging week for Montreal. We've been presented with five – count 'em, five – different troubling insights into city hall's behaviour. It's hard to keep track of these revelations because of their sheer abundance. So let's review.
1. In 2008, the city awarded contracts for a new telecommunications network, most of which was to be done by Telus Québec. That company's unusually low bid meant that contracts totalled only $108 million, an anticipated savings of $50 million. The city's Auditor-General Jacques Bergeron now indicates, however, that taxpayers can kiss that money goodbye. "Serious indications of irregularities" exist in the awarding of the contracts, he wrote in a report. They're so serious that he's notified the police.
2. The city's new No. 1 civil servant, director-general Louis Roquet, sent a copy of the auditor-general's report to Telus before it had been made public, despite the fact that the report was stamped confidential. (Reports by auditors-general at every level of government are, like budgets, supposed to be secret until publication.) As it happens, Roquet is also the board chairman of a company that has been a business partner of Telus.
In a rare display of public outrage, the auditor-general called this "a very grave transgression."
It is hard to tell whether Roquet's disclosure is only a breach of protocol or something more serious, possibly a matter of interference in a police investigation. In any case, Mayor Gérald Tremblay said at a press conference Thursday that Roquet "acted in good faith" and that "he has all of my confidence."
3. The city last year sold for $1.5 million a piece of land in Rivière-des-Prairies that it had bought for $7.7 million 20 years ago and that it had evaluated at $5 million 10 years ago.
The report found that the executive committee, in approving the deal, was not given "relevant information." As well, city council never gave it final approval. The land, to be used a residential development, is the size of 33 Canadian football fields.
4. The same short-circuiting of the city's checks and balances is apparent in the police department's outsourcing of security work to BCIA, a company that had spotty financial credentials. The executive committee, city council and agglomeration council were never consulted about the deal, which lasted from 2006 until Monday. BCIA is now bankrupt.
The auditor-general says police chief Yvan Delorme never insisted on a contract with BCIA, only an oral agreement. La Presse has reported that the company's head, Luigi Coretti, twice hosted Delorme at restaurant lunches in 2005 before the latter became chief. (This is the same businessman whose favours to Tony Tomassi led to the latter's ouster from the Quebec Liberal caucus.)
La Presse reports that BCIA provided surveillance of the home of former executive-committee chairman Frank Zampino free of charge. La Presse has estimated the value at more than $50,000.
As with the Telus affair, then, unseemly ties appear to exist between city officials and suppliers.
5. The auditor-general found that seven boroughs awarded the lion's share of capital-works projects to a small number of firms. The most extreme cases were Anjou, where all five contracts (totalling $6 million) went to a company owned by Tony Accurso, and Verdun, where all 21 contracts (worth $23 million) were awarded to a company owned by Paolo Catania. The auditor-general found this "perplexing."
So, what can we conclude from these five situations?
First, let's note that all but one - the Roquet leak to Telus - occurred before last fall's election. They thus predate the mayor's third mandate - a mandate that he says will focus on combatting sleaze.
Second, let's also acknowledge that none of the five cases really qualifies as a scandal. We have no evidence of outright corruption. The auditor-general's cautious term - perplexing - is the mot juste.
Still, the pattern is dismaying. Tremblay has said Roquet, who took the top job Jan. 1, is the key guy in achieving reform. The central step in any reform would be to chop the cozy ties between officials and contractors, and Roquet's rapport with Telus makes him look likepart of the problem. What's more, Tremblay's absolution of that rapport does nothing to raise hopes the mayor is serious about ending such ties.
At Thursday's press conference, the mayor also defended Delorme because the chief has assured him he has "no link of any kind to BCIA."
As well, Tremblay expressed no concern over the lopsided nature of boroughs' awarding of contracts. Not even a tsk-tsk.
On the basis of his performance this week, Tremblay's aptitude for draining the megacity's fetid swamp hardly seems promising.
Ahhhhh All is right with the Universe ,when politicians show their true colours,the Commander N Thief ,will get his share........Bet On It !! HF&RV