Mayor Tremblay says corruption happening 'for decades'
Quebec cabinet minister says graft has become 'cancer' in city
Montreal's mayor says he wants citizens to reserve judgment about allegations of corruption at city hall until all sides of the story have been heard.
"The society that I want to live in, that I choose to live in, is a society where we listen to the testimony of all parties before making a judgment on the person," he told reporters on Thursday.
Gérald Tremblay said he is following the testimony at the Charbonneau commission just like other Montrealers and admitted there have been misdeeds at city hall.
"The question that is asked: Is there collusion or corruption at the City of Montreal? The answer is yes, but it has been going on for decades," he said.
Tremblay's Union Montréal party as well as city officials have been implicated in an alleged bid-rigging scheme that, the commission has heard, saw bribes paid by construction entrepreneurs tied to the value of contracts they received.
Former construction boss Lino Zambito testified that the money was paid to a middle man and was allegedly intended for Union Montréal.
Some of the details of the kickback scheme were confirmed by a former city engineer who testified he received more than $600,000 in bribes over a 20-year period.
Tremblay has denied that his party had received any illegal financing.
On Thursday morning, he also deflected media reports that he would announce he would not run in next year's municipal election at a meeting next week with the Montreal's Board of Trade.
"I will not be talking about my political future at that time," he said. "I will do it later on."
He affirmed that he would finish his mandate, which expires with the municipal election next November, but he wouldn't comment on his desire to seek re-election.
Tremblay's comments came after sharp criticism from the provincial government this morning about the depths of corruption in Montreal.
"Day after day, we see how a system of corruption has grown like a cancer in the Montreal area," said Jean-François Lisée, the minister responsible for Montreal.
Yesterday, the mayor of Laval announced he would be temporarily stepping down for medical reasons amid a flurry of search warrants executed on his assets. No charges have been laid against long-time Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt.
Lisée said he believes Montreal and Laval are in a state of political crisis, but there's little the provincial government can do to force mayors out of office.
"Elected officials, the municipal [councils] are working," Lisée said. " Decisions are being made. The only question left is the moral authority of the mayor of Montreal and that's a question only he can answer."
Lisée and other provincial MNAs commented on the situation in Montreal on their way into a PQ caucus meeting in Drummondville Thursday morning.
Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault said he welcomed Vaillancourt's decision to temporarily step down.
"It's the reason he gave, and I respect it," he said citing Vaillancourt's reported health concerns.
"What matters to me is what happens for the citizens of Laval."
Gaudreault said he has yet to speak with officials in Laval, but said he's working on ways to shed light on activities within the city's administration and "make things better."
He said, however, that the government needs to let the corruption commission do its work.
"We're going to take their recommendations and propose changes," he said.
Both ministers pointed the finger at the previous Liberal government for taking too long to call the commission, which is looking into corruption and collusion in public works contracts.