Gomery calls for inquiry into municipal corruption

The man who headed the federal inquiry into the sponsorship scandal is calling on the Quebec government to launch a similar investigation into political corruption in Montreal.

Former head of federal sponship inquiry weighs in on Montreal election campaign

Former judge John Gomery says the scandals that have hit Montreal's two main municipal parties share a common thread with the sponsorship scandal. (CBC)
The man who headed the federal inquiry into the sponsorship scandal is calling on the Quebec government to launch a similar investigation into political corruption in Montreal.

Retired Superior Court judge John Gomery, the honorary chair of a fundraising campaign by opposition party Projet Montréal, was reacting to scandals that have broken in the months leading up to the city’s Nov. 1 election.

Gomery said the recent political controversies that have hit both Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s Union Montreal Party, and the opposition Vision Montreal share a common thread with the sponsorship scandal.

"The need of political parties for large sums of money is a problem for democratic institutions," Gomery said.

He said the thirst for cash means large donors gain too much influence over political parties.

Gomery called on the government of Premier Jean Charest to call a wide-ranging public inquiry to examine the links between fundraising for municipal parties and the awarding of contracts.

Gomery said the premier’s plan to wait for the results of several police investigations already underway is not good enough.

"With great respect to Mr. Charest, he's doing what politicians often do, which is to say let's leave it to police and hope that the problem goes away."

Nor was Gomery impressed by Municipal Affairs Minister Laurent Lessard's announcement the province will tighten the rules for financing of elections and political leadership campaigns.

"I think its a Band-Aid, instead of treating the patient as a whole," Gomery said. " I think that there is a systemic problem that has to be dealt with."

Projet Montréal Leader Richard Bergeron is the only candidate whose hands are clean, said Gomery, explaining his decision to back the party. Gomery’s daughter Cym is running for Projet Montréal in Montreal’s Loyola district.

Debate at national assembly

Meanwhile, at the national assembly, the Parti Québécois also continued to press the government to order an inquiry.

"Listen, do you have people to protect?" asked the party’s public security critic, Bertrand St-Arnaud.

An inquiry is the only way to get to the bottom of what appears to be rampant collusion and the artificial inflation of public works contracts awarded to a handful of Montreal construction firms, St-Arnaud said.

Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis rejected the calls for an inquiry, saying that the government has not turned a blind eye to allegations of corruption, and that criminal investigations are underway.

Operation Springtime 2001, an investigation that resulted in sweeping raids against criminal biker gang members, should prove that if anyone is guilty of corruption, they will be caught, Dupuis said.

Tremblay open to inquiry

Tremblay said questions of municipal integrity don’t affect Montreal alone.

"It is a problem across the whole province."

Tremblay said he didn’t want to minimize questions of integrity but he is open to the idea of an inquiry, "so that finally we can talk about the issues that affect the citizens."

Over the weekend, city opposition leader Benoît Labonté was forced to resign and announce he was dropping out of the election after allegations he had met with and accepted donations from the construction entrepreneur at the centre of the city’s water-meter scandal.

Last month, the mayor was forced to cancel the $355-million contract after a damning report by the city’s auditor-general.

The auditor launched the investigation after it was revealed Tremblay’s former right-hand-man, Frank Zampino, had vacationed on a yacht belonging to Tony Accurso. Accurso’s construction company, Simard-Beaudry, was part of the consortium that was awarded the contract in 2007.

Last week, a Radio-Canada investigation alleged a small number of construction firms are colluding to control bidding and keep prices high on major municipal infrastructure projects in the greater Montreal region, and that the mafia is involved in the scheme.