The interim mayor of Laval, Que., Alexandre Duplessis, has agreed to allow the Parti Québécois government to put Quebec's third-largest city under trusteeship — a move likely to happen as early as Monday, by government decree.
The latest bombshell comes after a witness at Quebec's corruption inquiry testified yesterday that Duplessis was among the willing participants in a widespread illegal political-financing scheme.
Duplessis was appointed last fall to replace longtime mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, who stepped down amid mounting allegations of corruption. Vaillancourt was arrested earlier this month and faces a dozen charges, including conspiracy, fraud, influence peddling, breach of trust and gangsterism.
Duplessis reconsiders future mayoralty bid
After avoiding reporters for close to two days, Duplessis emerged from Laval city hall late Friday to issue a brief statement and took no questions.
"In this truly extraordinary context, it is in the best interests of Laval's citizens to have a transitional solution, to allow us to maintain services to the population and manage the running of the municipal council," said Duplessis.
Duplessis confirmed that after speaking to Quebec's Minister of Municipal Affairs Sylvain Gaudreault, he consulted with Laval's executive committee and other members of city council and agreed that trusteeship was the best option.
Duplessis said he will stay on as Laval's mayor until next November's municipal election as planned, although he is reconsidering his bid to run in that election.
"He has no credibility…He has no ethics," said Jean-Claude Gobé, a mayoralty candidate with the opposition group Action Laval, calling for Duplessis to resign immediately.
Allegations 'troubling,' minister says
Earlier today, as both Coalition Avenir Québec and Québec Solidaire clamoured for Laval to be put under trusteeship, Gaudreault said he was troubled by the latest allegations involving the ruling party of Quebec's fourth largest city.
A former agent for the PRO des Lavallois party, Jean Bertrand, told the Charbonneau commission yesterday that almost all of the party's elected officials allowed colluding construction companies to illegally finance the party during Vaillancourt's reign.
Bertrand testified that elected officials knowingly accepted illegal payments to cover their campaign contributions — and that included Duplessis, the present mayor.
Bertrand said in the late 1990s and early 2000s he gave money from colluding construction companies to party officials and their family members so they could be reimbursed for contributions to the party. Bertrand said he informed officials that the practice was illegal.
Never told it was illegal, says Laval councillor
One former councillor with PRO des Lavallois, Claire Lebel, told Radio-Canada earlier on Friday that she knows first-hand the practices described by Bertrand did indeed go on.
However, the Laval city councillor said she was taken advantage of by her party's fundraisers, and she didn't know she was a part of an illegal financing scheme.
Lebel said as a social worker supporting a family, she couldn't afford the $1,000 mandatory annual donation the party was demanding when she first ran for office.
"I told Mr. Bertrand I didn't have the money," Lebel said. "He came to my office and said he would help me out. He never said what he was doing was illegal or where the money came from."
She said she understood the cheque he gave her to be a loan. However, Lebel said, when she later tried to repay the money, she was told to keep it and not worry about the supposed debt.
She said when she eventually realized what was going on, she shared the information with authorities.
"I find this shocking, because now I could be labelled as dishonest, when I believe I was simply in a vulnerable position, and I was used," said Lebel.
Construction contracts continue
Despite continuing allegations of corruption and collusion at the Charbonneau inquiry, and despite raids and arrests at several Laval engineering firms by Quebec's anti-corruption squad, Radio-Canada reported today that the City of Laval has continued to give construction contracts to implicated firms.
The city has awarded a total of $11 million in contracts to firms accused of participating in collusion since last November, when several of those companies were raided by Quebec's anti-corruption squad, known by its French acronym, UPAC.
UPAC arrested 37 people in early May, including Vaillancourt, the city's former manager and its former director of engineering, as well as several construction firm executives.