Corruption inquiry shines light on our own lethargy

It’s all a big yawn.

Zampito tells us, under immunity and daylong police escort, what we already took to be the case. Our city, our city’s civil engineering and construction industry, our infrastructure and our civil servants are all rotten to the core. I’ve wondered aloud for years about the incredibly inflated costs of trying to get just about anything done in this city, hoping against hope that there was some justifiable cost or economic force I had failed to consider. But no, Occam’s Razor makes short work of such a flight of fancy. It’s plain old graft. Cash stuffed into socks and manila envelopes exchanged on tropical beaches or Bell Centre soirées-spectacles. The Mob gets a cut, the Mayor(s) get their cut, the director of the new Superhospital takes a cut, with the taxpayer ultimately footing the bill.

I don’t know what’s worse; that the aforementioned criminals then (often) turn around and have the stones to deliver a substandard product despite all the wheel greasing. Or that I feel like I’m stuck in time; the Cliche Commission into corruption in the Québec construction industry revealed the exact same thing was going on thirty-eight years ago.

Of the many appalling similarities between the Cliche Commission and the current Charbonneau Commission, it is the similar lack of judicial ‘teeth’. Do we actually expect someone important, someone at the top, to see the insides of a prison? Of course not. They didn’t expect it back in 1974 either. At the same time as Robert Bourassa was warning Brian Mulroney not to dig too far in his part of Judge Cliche’s investigation, the costs associated with the construction of the Olympic Stadium were soaring. It wouldn’t be too long before Drapeau was being openly ridiculed for the glaring corruption going on at the construction site. A number of residential apartment towers in this city stand tall built on concrete intended for the Big O. Truck drivers delivering materials to the site would regularly charge two or three times in an hour – all for the same load without ever actually dropping anything off. The owner of one the Stadium’s prime contractors was a political ally of the Mayor. Drapeau himself wasn’t even a completely legitimate mayor at the time, given that he used the pretext of the October Crisis to have all opposition declared illegitimate, a situation that lasted four years. Drapeau would remain Mayor, despite all of this, until 1986. Bourassa would be re-elected for nine-years, in 1985, roughly a decade after both men had endured a public humiliation with rampant accusations (and evidence) of reckless, nearly sociopathic, corruption.

How can a city learn from its mistakes when it does nothing to correct a problem as significant as this? And isn’t it sad that the people here are so emotionally exhausted from our long, drawn-out decline, that they are incapable of pushing for real change. I can understand the sensation of being trapped in a web—as far as provincial parties are concerned, it’s an unspoken truth that the PQ’s reach into construction unions extends just as far as the PLQ’s reach into the construction firms. In forty years we have not only failed to rectify an obvious problem, we’ve seemingly ingrained it into the very method by which we do business.

I wish I could be livid, but all I can come up with is a general revulsion, an apathetic shrug. Answers are all around us, yet no one is willing to act, and we can only pretend the problem has been fixed until it becomes quite evident of just how broken our system really is. Say when a support column of a highway overpass crumbles, or when a hole forms in the middle of a bridge. We can only lie to ourselves for so long believing, honestly, that ‘it’s just the way things are’. We can’t laugh it off anymore as just another example of a local eccentricity.

At least, not if we actually want something better in the future. If we want a well-built city where contracts are awarded based on the merit of the design or the cost-savings as opposed to who owes favours to whom. Conceptualizing something better isn’t enough. What obstacles must we overcome—today and permanently—so as to thrive tomorrow?

An afterthought. For a long time I wanted to be mayor of this city. Now, I’m not so sure; I would hate to have to become a Montreal politician first. Whether individually guilty of a crime or not, there’s a dark cloud over the heads of our city’s politicians, civil servants, mayor, chief engineers, etc. All are suspected, and perhaps worse still, it is assumed that those most directly implicated will get away unpunished. I find it inconceivable that a city such as our own, with an excess of elected officials, could be so inept at keeping themselves, and their jobs, within the realm of respectability. Their failure to act, their failure to consider the on-going, deleterious effects this is having on our society, demonstrates, perhaps, just how disconnected the presumptive architects of our metropolis are from the people they are supposed to serve.

It also demonstrates criminal negligence and complicity in one of our society’s gravest sins: ripping off the taxpayer. But so long as the people remain inert and unfocused, rather than prison terms, this perennial criminality will only ever result in the enrichment of the benevolent dictatorship that’s running this city right into the ground.

*Photo by C2-MTL via Flickr under a CC license. 

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