The City of Montreal is a mess and it’s time for change. The municipal elections are this November and candidates are clamoring to show that they are most qualified to fix our construction problems, frivolous expenditures and lack of accountability. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to take an interest in municipal politics, and it’s easy to see why.

Federal and Provincial politics deal with sexy issues like healthcare, education, Native rights, law enforcement and treaties. Municipal politics deals with dogs and decorations and infrastructure. They’re not sexy but they are important, so this article will give you a crash course on Montreal’s upcoming elections and some of the issues at hand.

First, let’s talk about dogs.

In June 2016 a dog mauled a Pointe-Aux-Trembles woman to death. In response, City Hall under current mayor Denis Coderre introduced a bylaw requiring that dogs be muzzled in public, banning pitbulls and other “dangerous breeds”.

The rules were met with outrage from everyone, arguing that the law created arbitrary rules in an attempt to prevent something that’s impossible to predict. It pushes the notion that certain breeds are more prone to violence than others and has forced many dog owners to consider leaving the city rather than getting rid of their beloved pets in order to conform to the bylaw. Despite the outrage, the bylaw stands.

Projet Montreal led by Valérie Plante is by far Coderre’s greatest competition, and they have a few things to say about the current mayor.

The party’s website says:

“Like you, we care for the safety of all. And like you, we also know that policies based on a dog’s breed or appearance (BSL) are ineffective in protecting the public.”

Rather than banning some breeds, their focus is on responsible pet ownership including providing financial incentives for pet sterilization, and better control of the sales and life conditions of pets. It’s clear that should Projet win the election one of their first orders of business will be abolishing the pitbull ban.

Now let’s talk about expenditures.

This year is Montreal’s 375th anniversary and we should be celebrating, but how much celebrating is too much?

Anyone who plans a party knows that one must work within a budget, especially if the money is not yours.

In honor of the City’s anniversary, Coderre spent $39.5 million to light up the Jacques Cartier Bridge with LED lights. Coderre also took the liberty of spending $3.45 million on granite tree stumps on Mount Royal, which strike many as not only frivolous, but impractical. As Sue Montgomery, Projet Montréal’s candidate for borough mayor of CDN/NDG recently mentioned, the design of the stumps doesn’t even allow people to sit on them, as they’re slanted in such a way people and objects slide right off (unlike actual tree stumps).

Where did the money for these things come from?

It came from the taxpayers, which means that we’re footing the bill. Was there public consultation about this? Did the mayor seek our consent before using our money to buy these things?

Not really.

One of Projet Montreal’s big platforms this election is that of accountability. They want the city’s leadership to answer to citizens the way they’re supposed to.

Coderre’s goal for all these projects was to put Montreal on the map, but as many of Coderre’s critics have pointed out, the city was already on the map. We have the Jazz Festival, the Just for Laughs festival, Francopholies, Nuits d’Afrique, Carifest, the fireworks competition and tons of other annual events that draw thousands of tourists every year. Most of us agree that the money spent on cosmetic additions was a waste. That money could have been better spent fixing a Montreal problem so great it’s become a joke:

The problem I’m talking about is municipal construction.

Projet Montreal calls the problem “Kône-o-Rama” and vows to “end bad traffic management by creating a traffic authority, ready to intervene to eliminate obstacles on roads, sidewalks and bike paths.”

The problem, however, is much more than that.

Construction projects, while often necessary, are poorly managed. Highway exits are closed, but the signs indicating as much are often placed too close to the site of the work, leaving motorists struggling to find alternate access points to their destinations, creating delays.

Where sidewalks are closed for construction, workers seldom indicate alternate footpaths for pedestrians, something that especially puts the city’s disabled, elderly, and people with babies at risk. Where businesses are blocked off due to holes in the street, the best construction workers offer is a wobbly and unsafe ramp to get to the door. Not to mention the noise, the dust, and the lack of proper safety barriers.

It has become such a joke in this town that souvenir shops now offer ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the shape of traffic cones with the city’s name on them.

Coderre has been conspicuously silent about all of this, while Projet Montreal is demanding remedies as part of their accountability and accessibility platforms. They want to see coordination between the construction projects to make sure cyclists and pedestrians are kept safe and the city is accessible for everyone.

Projet Montreal is not the only party to challenge the current administration.

Other parties include Vrai Changement, pushing leader Justine McIntyre for mayor of the Pierrefonds-Roxboro Borough. Vrai Changement is running on a platform of economic development, less dependence on motor vehicles, and improving public transportation. Unfortunately, the party focus seems primarily on the Pierrefonds-Roxboro and Lachine boroughs and not on the city’s overall well-being.

Coalition Montreal has candidates running mostly in the Côte des Neiges and NDG borough. They are pushing Zaki Ghavitian for Borough Mayor and hoping leader Marvin Rotrand, former vice-chair of the STM currently on the city council, retains his council seat representing Snowdon. Whether they present a candidate for JMayor of Montreal remains to be seen.

More than any other election, the municipal one is the one most likely to affect our daily lives. Stay informed and when the time comes, VOTE.

Corruption is something as intrinsic to the City of Montreal as the Jazz Festival, fine cuisine, and frivolous disputes over the language of commercial signage. The end of this month is an important date in the world of municipal corruption because it is the deadline for construction companies to pay the City of Montreal back for the overcharging revealed in the massive collusion investigation conducted by the Charbonneau Commission.

Collusion is a secret agreement between two or more people with the goal of causing harm to one or more of them or to reach an objective prohibited by law.

The investigation by the Charbonneau Commission led by Justice France Charbonneau and her fellow commissioner, former Auditor General of Quebec Renaud Lachance, was started in 2011 under former premier Jean Charest. Its goal was to investigate corruption between Quebec government bodies, construction and engineering firms, and in many cases the Montreal Mafia, since 1996.

The enquiry revealed construction and engineering firms billing of the City of Montreal for phony expenses, the rigging of bids for public works projects, and the mandatory paying of kickbacks to government officials and mobsters. Among those implicated in the investigation are the engineering firm Roche and the construction firm Les Grands Travaux Soter. Former Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt was also implicated with reports indicating that entrepreneurs working on Laval projects were expected to give him a two point five percent cut of the value of each contract they got.

Gilles Vaillancourt has since stepped down as mayor after over 23 years in office and is now facing charges for conspiracy, fraud, breach of trust, and gangsterism.

The corruption allegations in Quebec and the ensuing Charbonneau Commission resulted in the adoption of the Quebec Anti-Corruption Act in 2011.

The purpose of the act is to prevent and fight corruption in contractual matters with the public sector. The law also has the goal of restoring the public’s faith in the private sector’s construction deals with the government. Among its provisions is the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commissioner, who is appointed by the Quebec government to fight corruption.

The Anti-Corruption Act is excessive. The Canadian Criminal Code already has provisions against fraud, corruption, and bribery, all of which fall under the jurisdiction of the police and Attorney General who can conduct investigations and prosecute offenders.

What the law does in addition to creating the Anti-Corruption Commissioner is specify what bodies are considered part of the public sector and therefore under the Commissioner’s jurisdiction. This includes any public body or government agency, the Université du Québec and its constituent universities, research institutes and superior schools, and all schools and school boards established by law and/or eligible for government subsidies. ^Though logic dictates that any organization funded by or under the control of the government is part of the public sector.

With agents and organizations already in place to investigate corruption and criminal activity, the Anti-Corruption Commissioner appears to be a purely symbolic office created to show the federal government that Quebec can handle its own corruption problems without the intervention of federally appointed prosecutors and judges.

The reason it is important to discuss this now is because of Law 26, adopted unanimously by the Quebec National Assembly in March of 2015 as the Charbonneau Commission drew to a close.

Law 26, known in long form as an Act to ensure mainly the recovery of amounts obtained as a result of fraud or fraudulent tactics in connection with public contracts sets up a program by which companies implicated in fraud can pay back some of the money they cheated taxpayers of.

The City of Montreal sent out 380 letters last November to the construction and engineering firms who’ve dealt with the City since 1996. The letters demanded that construction companies pay back 20% of the value of the contracts they’ve had with the City for over two decades in cases where the company was involved in collusion.

Companies and individuals have until November first 2016 to announce their intention to participate. SNC Lavalin, Dessau, and Construction Frank Catania and Associates Inc. have all publicly declared their intention to take part.

Though the law says the program is voluntary, companies that refuse to pay up can face stiff penalties, be sued by the City of Montreal, and be barred from bidding on future contracts with the City.

Former Chief Justice of the Superior Court, François Rolland, who is now Director of this Voluntary Reimbursement Program, has expressed his belief that this will be incentive enough for companies to come forward, but some believe the law lacks teeth.

Simon Seida, a Montreal lawyer with Blake, Cassels & Graydon, told the CBC on November third 2015 that a company that has received no indication that the government is looking into its practices with public contracts or that they’re going to get sued will have little inclination to participate and he is right.

No individual or company is going to pay the government money it does not feel it is legally bound to pay.

There are undoubtedly tons of construction companies in Quebec guilty of collusion but investigations, trials, and lawsuits are probably just as expensive for taxpayers as corruption itself. The Quebec government should go after the big companies involved in the bigger crimes and let the little fish go.

It is the big companies that need to be made an example of and held accountable, not the little ones who made mistakes in the hopes of competing with them. In the name of fiscal accountability, a little streamlining and cutting of government offices wouldn’t hurt either.

Forget The Sopranos, The Godfather even Goodfellas. Forget guns and sleeping with the fishes.

The Montreal mob has a new weapon in their arsenal. It’s not exciting, flashy or even remotely interesting.

Quite the opposite. They now know how to bore the general public to the point where we all lose interest.

It worked on me. Then, by chance, two people I respect brought up the same thing in the same night: the Charbonneau Commission.

Wait, that’s still going on? Yes, despite a large portion of the general public (and yours truly) loosing interest after the commission claimed the political careers of longstanding mayors Gerald Tremblay and Gilles Vaillancourt.

The sacrificial lambs were thrown to the slaughter…and by slaughter I mean a pretty comfortable retirement and no need to answer any more questions. Corruption problem solved!

But the commission continued, undeterred and unnoticed. Witnesses testified, mainstream media reported on it out of duty not interest.

Yeah, a few times the commission tried to get provocative like when they asked city employee Gilles Vezina if he ever accepted the services of a prostitute as a bribe. But alas, the answer was no, the wine and hockey tickets were enough for him, and he wasn’t high profile enough to warrant pursuing the matter further.

Now, it turns out that one of the witnesses, Martin Dumont, felt pressured and asked for his testimony to be stricken. His lawyer threatened to take the matter to Quebec Superior Court if the request is refused. From there, the Supreme Court of Canada becomes an option.

Following a case up the legal food chain is hard enough to do even when it’s salacious and sexy. This is anything but.

If only it was this easy (image: http://earthenergyreader.wordpress.com)

How do you make something already mired in public apathy less appealing? You bog it down in legal procedure, that’s how. Absolutely brilliant.

If it gets to the Supreme Court, everything could be thrown out. If it does, who will notice and moreover who will care? We’ve already got the big names, who cares about the rest?

But we should care. Those are our roads cracking and overpasses crumbling because of shoddy work done by those who got insider contracts and overbilled the taxpayer. Those are our elected officials and unelected bureaucrats taking bribes from the mob. Those are our streets turned into impromptu rivers that sweep McGill students away for a kayak-less ride down to Sherbrooke. This is our public inquiry that risks disappearing without anyone noticing.

What is supposed to be a battle between right and wrong, public good and corruption has turned into a fight to keep the ratings up. On one side, we have the Charbonneau Commission trying to remain relevant and sexy without any big name talent. On the other, the mob and corrupt officials are working their hardest to get this show cancelled midseason. No syndicated reruns, no DVD box sets, just done and gone.

While this analogy may have almost run its course, so has the Charbonneau Commission. Maybe we should make some sort of petition to keep this show going or at very least start paying attention.

It may seem boring, but when you think about it, bringing down the graft that has been institutionalized in Quebec since the 50s or maybe earlier is probably the sexiest most exciting story possible.