Justice Gomery

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You can say many things about politics in la belle province, many of them unprintable, but that they are boring is not one of those things.

This wild week began with the pre-dawn arrest of Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum on Monday. While many Montrealers were shocked to see the mayor hauled off in handcuffs to face fourteen corruption-related charges, the only thing that shocked me was that it took so long.

Despite his misdeeds being more or less public knowledge in his borough of NDG-CDN since at least 2009, it wasn’t until the suicide in March of Robert Rousseau, a senior manager in the borough who killed himself a single day after being interviewed by the newly formed UPAC (permanent anti-corruption unit), that an investigation of Applebaum began in earnest.

Once it did, it turned out there was plenty of dirt to be found. But then, that’s been the reality of the past year in Montreal, at each turn we convince ourselves that it can’t possibly get any worse, only to awake to new and more damning scandals.

Last November, when Applebaum pulled off the fantastical feat of standing at the side of a mayor resigning under a cloud of corruption, whom he had served as a loyal number two, and then casting himself as the white knight riding to the rescue of our crumbling metropolis, he said this:

“I solemnly vow that I will erase this stain on our city… I will be your eyes and ears, and will do everything to regain what was stolen from you, to protect you from anyone who tries to take advantage of you.”

At the time, in an article titled “Montreal’s new mayor: the more things change, the more they stay the same” I wrote the following:

“Before you pop the champagne however, keep in mind that Applebaum could hardly be less independent of the Union Montreal morass which has dragged our city into the depths of corruption and scandal… Ultimately, however much Applebaum promises to reverse the course he helped to set over the past number of years, and pledges his independence and non-partisanship, little has really changed.”

Meanwhile the Montreal Gazette‘s dynamic duo of municipal punditry, Henry Aubin and Don MacPherson, ignored the obvious likelihood that our new mayor was every bit the crook the previous one was, and relentlessly cheered on his every move, going so far as to float the possibility he could run this November. To give one example, Aubin managed to laud both Applebaum’s “sound instincts” and his “down-to-earth priorities” in a single column from last November.

In yesterday’s column, Aubin went so far as to argue that the police were wrong to arrest Applebaum, and should have let him finish out his term, and run for re-election as borough mayor in NDG-CDN, to avoid “destabilizing” the city. Ummm, what?

This is, of course, the same Henry Aubin who fearlessly cheered on Tremblay and Union in 2009’s election, declaring them the best of a bad lot of options, and minimizing and belittling corruption allegations at every turn. At the time he dedicated seemingly endless columns to vicious attacks on Tremblay’s most credible challenger among anglos, Richard Bergeron. He pilloried the Projet Montreal leader for such insignificant imbroglios as joking that he smoked because it was good for his health, and continued to repeat the unfounded accusation that Bergeron and his party are sovereigntist despite repeated denials and a lack of any evidence to support the (false) assertion.

[Note: Because the Montreal Gazette doesn’t host archives going back to 2009, I had forgotten that Aubin did, in fact, experience a last minute conversion on the road to Damascus and endorsed Bergeron in the campaign’s final days. Unfortunately, this did not erase the impact of his attacks in the months prior. I apologize for the error.]

Is there anyone in this city who does not now desperately wish Bergeron had bested Tremblay in that election?

For my money, Aubin owes us all an apology. But as much as they may have contributed to it, our current mess is not the fault of the media members who so relentlessly excused away ever larger scandals (and make no mistake, though I single them out with good reason, Aubin and MacPherson are far from alone).

The blame should be laid squarely upon us, the citizenry of this fine city. If the definition of insanity is to repeat the same action and expect a different result, then we’re stark raving mad.

How else to explain our perverse behaviour in 2009? We knew then that Union was rotten, if not the full scope of their betrayal. Justice John Gomery, the head of the sponsorship inquiry and perhaps the most unassailably ethical man in the city, stated baldly that the only party he trusted to not be corrupt was Projet Montreal.

We ignored him, and elected Tremblay. When Tremblay was outed as a crook and forced to resign, we believed that his number two was capable of stepping into the breach, in fact, if the polls are any indication, we quite liked Applebaum, and might well have elected him, right up until he was hauled off in handcuffs.

Now we seem poised to repeat this history, which we clearly haven’t learned from. If you went searching for a politician emblematic of everything wrong with our politics, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than Denis Coderre. The good old boy was a prominent Liberal MP during the sponsorship scandal, in which he was implicated, but never accused of a crime. He has also benefitted from the recurring largesse of campaign donors such as Lino Zambito, Elio Pagliarulo and many others linked to the mafia and corruption and named at the Charbonneau commission.

Coderre has graciously promised to draw no more than half his candidates from the ranks of ex-Union councillors, although he has made no such commitments regarding back room staff and fundraisers.

I feel for any Union councillors who happen to be innocent, I really do. But under no circumstances should they be allowed to keep their seats. If you were a member of a political party run like a criminal enterprise for years, you are, at minimum, too clueless to serve as dog-catcher, let alone city councillor.

In short, if you believe Coderre is the guy to clean up corruption then I’ve got some Michael Applebaum futures to sell you.

Vision Montreal are better, but only slightly. Their last leader was forced to resign after it was discovered he took illegal cash donations totaling over $100,000 from construction magnate, and patient zero in our ballooning corruption scandal, Tony Accurso. Once caught, he defended himself by explaining that this was common practice, and that Vision’s entire campaign was funded with illegal donations.

Furthermore, even if you buy the idea that Vision suddenly sprouted an ethical compass in the last four years, they’re about as likely to win as independent candidate Melanie Joly. The party is, quite literally, bankrupt, and it’s an open question how they hope to finance a campaign in the fall. Under the leadership of ex-PQ cabinet minister Louise Harel they’re about as popular as measles in the western (anglo) half of the city, while their stock continues to plummet in their stronghold of east-end Montreal. This is most glaringly illustrated in Rosemont borough, where Vision emerged from the 2009 election with a majority of three of five seats and the borough mayoralty. Through defections and by-election losses to Projet, they now hold zero seats in a borough which should be their heartland.

A number of other Vision councillors have jumped ship, including four this month alone, to sit with Projet, as independents, or to join Coderre’s team. Sorry Louise, but when the most common adjective used to describe your candidacy is “beleaguered”, the writing is on the wall.

So let’s recap.

Denis Coderre: Union 2.0, with the delicious addition of his own dirty laundry. If you want to laugh while the city burns to the ground, he’s your man.

Louise Harel: She’s an also-ran and her party is bankrupt and mired in enough sleaze to grease up a pig. She has managed to lose a third of the seats she won in 2009 to defections and by-elections and her own caucus often refuse to vote with her. If you love underdog stories, but not the kind where the underdog wins, vote for Vision.

Marcel Côté: Who? (no seriously, I had to google him to remember his first name) The economist, management consultant and hand-picked Chamber of Commerce candidate is not yet in the race, but is rumoured to be on the verge of declaring his candidacy. If you think public administrations should be managed like private hedge funds then he’s your candidate. However even his staunchest supporters acknowledge he has the charisma of a wet noodle, and a halting manner of speaking. Sleaze free, so far, but profoundly unlikely to win. The real impact of his entry into the race will be to split the right-wing, business vote with Coderre.

Melanie Joly: The lawyer and PR flack launched her campaign on Monday (Worst. Timing. Ever.), and yet already boasts a reputation for speaking a lot, and saying little. She’s crafting a feel good underdog narrative, replete with platitudes and post-partisan sloganeering. But everyone, including her, knows she has a better chance of being beamed up by Martians than of winning the mayoralty in November. This is about name recognition and positioning for a future run for office. If you like voting for a sure loser who stands on platitudes not principle, this is your ticket.

Richard Bergeron: In an election all about corruption, Bergeron is likely the cleanest person in the room. An urban-planner by profession, Bergeron is a policy-wonk whose love for this city is evident in the way his eyes glint when he discusses it. His party’s books have always been open, and its fundraising system is a model of openness, transparency and integrity. Small wonder, considering it was designed by Justice Gomery.

He has been accused of being everything under the sun, from a closet sovereigntist to a closet federalist to an advocate for the health benefits of cigarettes and a crackpot kook. Through it all he has maintained his dignity and carried the little party he founded forward, from one seat in 2006, to ten in 2009 to a clear shot at victory this year.

Unlike all the other candidates, Bergeron is not affiliated with any other political party, and leads a coalition party which draws support from across the political spectrum. For their parts, Coderre, Joly and Côté are all staunch Liberals, while Harel’s affiliation is to the PQ.

He isn’t my ideal candidate and nor is his party my ideal party. I think they’re too centrist, too silent on issues of class and too divergent on issues of bedrock social policy. But we can’t always get what we want, and he just might be exactly what we need.

This is municipal politics after all, it hews to the local rather than the ideological. So whether you place yourself on the right, the left or the centre, can we not all agree that what matters most is a clean break from this mess, and a mayor we can count on to fix the system so this never happens again?

So ahead of any other reason I might have for supporting Bergeron and Projet, I support them for the same reason Gomery does. Projet is the only real contender that can be counted upon to clean up this mess.

And that, my friends, is what matters most. 


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