Corruption probe shrouds Quebec in new darkness

Tue Dec 11, 2012 12:24pm EST
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By Rita Devlin Marier

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Half a century ago, a new crop of Quebec leaders sparked the so-called Quiet Revolution to eradicate the "Great Darkness" - decades of corruption that kept Canada's French-speaking province under the dominance of one party and the Catholic church.

The revolution's reforms, including cleaning up the way lawmakers were elected and secularizing the education system, seemed to work, paving the way for decades of growth, progress and prominence as Canada emerged as a model of democracy.

Fifty years later, a public inquiry into corruption and government bid-rigging suggests the province's politics are not as clean as Quebecers had hoped or believed.

Since May, when the inquiry opened in Montreal, Canadians have been getting daily doses of revelations of fraud through live broadcasts on French-language television stations. Corruption involving the Mafia, construction bosses and politicians, the inquiry has shown, drove up the average building cost of municipal contracts by more than 30 percent in Montreal, Canada's second-largest city.

Last month, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay resigned as did the mayor of nearby Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt. Both denied doing anything wrong, but said they could not govern amid the accusations of corruption involving rigging of municipal contracts, kickbacks from the contracts and illegal financing of elections.

Tremblay has not been charged by police. Vaillancourt's homes and offices have been raided several times by Quebec's anti-corruption squad, which operates independently of the inquiry, but no charges have been filed against him either. Police said the raids were part of an investigation but they would not release further details.

"Quebecers lived for several years under the impression that they had found the right formula, that their parties were clean," said Pierre Martin, political science professor at the University of Montreal. Now, he said, "people at all levels are fed up."

The inquiry must submit its final report to the Quebec government by next October. It has exposed practices worthy of a Hollywood noir thriller - a mob boss stuffing his socks with money, rigged construction contracts, call girls offered as gifts, and a party fundraiser with so much cash he could not close the door of his safe.   Continued...

Police tape lines the road as Surete du Quebec officers investigate the street outside the home where the murder of reputed mafia member Joe Di Maulo took place in Blainville, Quebec, November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi