Quebec, Ink — Captains and cowards

Mayor Gérald Tremblay resigns, yet manages to turn his announcement into an opportunity to praise his own administration and blame everyone else for his failure of leadership.

Is it just me, or did the performance of Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay last night remind you of the captain of the Costa Concordia? Here is a man responsible for piloting a city with a $4.8 billion budget and 28,000 employees for the past 11 years who, even as he deserts in disgrace a foundering ship, manages to turn it into an opportunity to praise his own administration and blame everyone else for his failure of leadership.

Only one line of Tremblay’s 15-minute resignation speech Monday night admitted to any personal responsibility for corruption that was seemingly common knowledge. “The trust I had in some was inevitably betrayed; I assume the full responsibility,” he finally conceded halfway through his address. But from that point on, he did anything but.

Tremblay said he was told before entering office in 2002 that there were “rumours” of brown envelopes of cash circulating at city hall, but was told there was “no evidence.” Instead of saying, “Well, then, look for the evidence,” the soon-to-be mayor shrugged it off. And the evidence, apparently, would have been easy to find. Construction costs were rising at a rate that should have triggered alarms from here to Chibougamau, but Tremblay did nothing.

Well, almost nothing. He did raise your taxes to pay for it.

Year after year, the city of Montreal hiked property and business taxes at a rate that executive committee chairman Michael Applebaum compared favourably to inflation. So you can only imagine how much lower taxes would have been if the city wasn’t funnelling hundreds of millions into the pockets of corrupt construction bosses. Or giving the managers who were overseeing this mess huge salaries. The Tremblay administration nearly tripled the number of city managers who earned over $100,000 from 626 to 1,700  in a single year!

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“When I was a young man, my father told me not to get into politics because it was dirty and would destroy me,” Tremblay said in his opening remarks last night. In this attempt to portray himself as virtuous, even courageous, he instead revealed the character flaw that led to his downfall. Despite his knowledge that he was immersed in an often dirty profession, the mayor refused to see what was happening all around him.

One witness at the Charbonneau Commission, former Union Montreal official Martin Dumont, testified that the mayor said he didn’t want to know the party was keeping two sets of books during a 2004 by-election during a meeting in the Ville St-Laurent borough. The mayor vehemently denied that last night, but if it turns out Tremblay’s party was engaged in illegal campaign financing, he will no doubt resort to the defence he has used through every scandal since 2002: “I didn’t know.”

Didn’t know, or didn’t want to know? We’ll no doubt have the answer to that question in the coming months. Meanwhile, Montrealers should feel some sense of relief that the captain who only sees the rocks after hitting them is no longer running the ship. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear at least once a week in this space. You can follow him on Twitter or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

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