Dear Maurice Duplessis,
You’d hardly recognize the Quebec you left behind on that dark day in 1959, when you were tragically taken from us after just 18 years as the Union Nationale premier. Back in your day, corruption ruled the province, from the construction of roads to the buying of votes. Remember when you used to drive along beautiful highways from riding to riding — or along dirt roads when it was a Liberal riding — confident in the knowledge that local officials were all in your pocket, as were the voters you had bought?
You’d be shocked to find that it’s becoming harder and harder to do a dishonest day’s work. You can no longer walk into the local tavern to buy votes — or the local cemetery to sign up voters. You can’t even fill party coffers with corporate cash anymore — you have to launder it through fake donations from company employees! And even that door is being closed thanks to something called the Charbonneau Commission, created by the former Liberal government to investigate corruption in the construction industry. Yes! The government created a body to investigate itself, since, of course, that’s where much of the construction money was coming from!
Let me give you some examples of how bribery and graft has been corrupted in this new millennium. First of all, it has cost us two Montreal mayors in just a year! And one of them wasn’t even being accused of taking dirty money, just of being blind to the river of dirty money flowing all around him! The guy who replaced him didn’t last long; he was arrested a few months later by a special police squad created to investigate corruption. Yes! Police now investigate bribes rather than take them.
(With exceptions, of course. Just this week, a retired detective who had a long career investigating organized crime was charged with accepting money from a motorcycle gang in exchange for tip-offs about police activities.)
The situation has gotten so bad that almost all of the candidates running for Montreal mayor are distancing themselves from their own parties! Some are even promising that their councillors can vote with their consciences rather than along party lines. That’ll make it harder for power-brokers to influence city hall, because now they’ll have to bribe a bunch of people at the bottom rather than just a few at the top.
The one candidate who really has a party behind him, Projet Montréal’s Richard Bergeron, has also been accused of corruption. Yes, Projet councillors voted to give a local group of volunteers $37,000 to build and stock a fruit and vegetable stand that offers inexpensive food for the neighbourhood’s poor. So as you can see, even the accusations of corruption have sunk to new lows: Projet Montréal is using public money to allow volunteers to feed the poor! Quel scandale!
We also lost two Laval mayors recently, including one who, like you, had an iron grip. (The other had a frilly slip, but that’s another story.)
This mayor, Gilles Vaillancourt, was in power even longer than you, for 23 years in a row. But when the special “Hammer” squad began investigating, people started to panic. When police came knocking at the door of Vaillancourt’s luxurious condo, supposedly owned by his cousin, they caught the cousin trying to flush wads of cash down the toilet! But since many of the bills were made of plastic (don’t ask), she just ended up plugging the crapper!
Not long after, police arrested the mayor, along with 36 other people, and charged him with, among a dozen other crimes, directing a criminal organization! Now you’d think that would be enough to send him into hiding, but this guy has brass balls. This week we learned that he offered to help funnel money to another mayoralty candidate. And after she went public with that info, her campaign manager was roughed up. And a second candidate got police protection just because Vaillancourt, who is 72, supposedly made some kind of joke about breaking his legs! (I’m sure he was just wishing him good luck.)
So as you can see, Maurice, employment for a hard-working bag man is getting harder and harder to find.
I hate to say it, but the one area where corruption still seems strong is in the construction unions. Yes, I know you hated unions, but today some of them help keep projects behind schedule and over budget on behalf of organized crime — at least that’s what one witness told the Charbonneau Commission. Ken Pereira became a police informant after he was told his life was in danger because of his efforts to get the union leadership to root out graft. After turning down offers of all-expense paid trips to strip joints and other perks, he said he was asked to meet with a gangland boss who tried to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. That’s when, Pereira said, he realized the union was actually being run by bikers and the mob.
In the good old days, you would have just sent in a bunch of thugs with clubs to knock Pereira in line, but they instead offered him a cash buyout to get him to leave for Alberta. And after the ungrateful bugger came back to testify at the Charbonneau hearings, they couldn’t even arrange a proper welcome. In fact, Pereira had to give himself the beating, falling on his head leaving his house Tuesday, just as he was about to be cross-examined by union lawyers.
Yes, Maurice, this is what has become of your legacy. Bumbling clowns — with wads of cash in their safes, their socks and even their toilets — are caught and exposed to public ridicule. Political parties are forbidden from accepting donations over $100, and government agencies now vet the winners of public contracts while candidates try to outdo each other in their promises to clean up city hall.
I hate to say it, Maurice, but I think the backroom boys will have to leave Quebec for a while and find a new place to work their magic.
According to Transparency International’s 2013 report, however, graft is still flourishing. “Around the world, political parties, the driving force of democracies, are perceived to be the most corrupt institution,” they assure us. “More than one in two people (54 per cent) think their government is largely or entirely run by groups acting in their own interests,” they add, and “53 per cent … think that corruption has increased or increased a lot over the last two years.”
And most people, even in Canada, think efforts to control corruption are failing. So don’t worry, Maurice Duplessis: the corrupters will be back before the ink is dry on the next anti-corruption law. Or sooner, if they can reach the right people.
Rest in peace. ■
Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter, or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.
Maurice Duplessis Wikipedia
Maurice Duplessis Canada’s Human Rights History
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