Construction corruption is like smoked meat; Montreal didn’t invent it, but they sure as hell refined it.
Yesterday, more incriminating evidence against Quebec’s Liberals surfaced in the Charbonneau Commission, with reports that several of the Liberal party’s official fundraisers approved in the late 2000’s were noted engineering executives and construction bosses with strong criminal ties. One example of these is Riahd Ben Aissa, a former executive VP of SNC-Lavalin (a massive Canadian engineering corporation) who is currently jailed in Switzerland on numerous corruption-related charges, and is reported to have close personal and business-related ties with Libya’s Gadhafi family. In addition to his North African oligarchy connection, he was an approved fundraiser for the Quebec Liberals.
Essentially, the political-criminal connection in Montreal couldn’t get much stronger even if Don Corleone was elected Premier. Despite the deep ceded corruption that a revelation like this uncovers, it is just a single drop in a massive pond that the Charbonneau Commission has been investigating since 2011. Between mayoral resignations and Panamanian prison, the only thing that could shock us at this point is a Montreal politician who’s kept their hands clean. Let us break down for you some of the highlights from the three year history of this extraordinary commission that has implicated just about everybody within a 50 mile radius of Montreal, the city that used to be the culture and business capital of Canada. Here are some highlights:
The Duchesneau report catalyzes the Charbonneau Commission
Back in 2010, former Montreal Police Chief and “anti-corruption crusader” Jacques Duchesneau led the brigade of investigating how the government awarded road and maintenance contracts to construction companies. Duchesneau leaked a major look down the rabbit hole of Montreal’s political corruption and criminality so impactful that Quebec’s Premier at the time, Jean Charest, was forced to order a commission to look into the issue (even though he was clearly implicated). It was the equivalent of a murderer calling the cops to investigate his own crime. And so in 2011, the Charbonneau Commission began.
Two and a Half Mayors Go Down
In November 2012, the mayor of Montreal, Gerald Tremblay, and the mayor of Laval (a nearby suburb), Gilles Vaillancourt, both resign in the wake of the Charbonneau Commission. Both of the men had their hands filthy in corruption, with the latter mayor even arrested and charged with gangsterism (a crime I’m not too familiar with, but one that sounds pretty cool). Just over a half a year later, Tremblay’s interim mayoral replacement Michael Applebaum is arrested and forced to resign on 14 charges, including fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust. Seriously guys? Come on. Get it together.
A Vacation in Panama Longer Than Expected
In May 2013, the former CEO of McGill University’s health network Arthur Porter was arrested with his wife in Panama after the Montreal police announced plans to charge him with just about every corruption-crime in the book. Porter’s criminality came to the light in the Charbonneau Commission, and the accusations in question have to do with the shady underbelly of the construction of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), a $1.3 billion super-hospital. Somehow knowledge of Porter’s shadiness reached the authorities in Panama where he’s been detained to this day for fraud. His wife was allowed to return to Canada and she’s been charged with laundering the proceeds of a crime. At least Porter knows he’s got that ride-or-die chick whose got his back.
Corruption is Bipartisan
In May 2013, Pauline Marois, never a purveyor of great judgment, was put on blast for allegedly “bullying” the Charbonneau Commission as a former cabinet minister of the Parti Quebecois was under investigation for rigging the awarding of a construction contract. Marois warned, “The commission must do its work and must do it with prudence.” Strangely, Marois never had any problems with the Commission while they mercilessly investigated members of the other political parties. Despite what was uncovered, just a couple months ago in the last election, Marois repeatedly warned that electing the Liberals would put the province at risk of corruption. Hmm. Right.
Well, no matter right wing or left wing, French or English, there’s one thing Montreal politicians can agree on. When it comes to construction contracts, unmarked 20s in manila envelopes s’il vous plaît.