Collusion by bidders on municipal contracts in Montreal began in 1993, Mayor GÃ©rald Tremblay said at a news conference at city hall yesterday, a declaration that surprised former politicians and activists.
“It has existed since 1993,” Tremblay said twice at the news conference when asked to respond to the annual report of the city’s auditor general this week, which, among other findings, revealed that Montreal and its boroughs awarded the bulk of municipal construction contracts to just 21 firms between 2006 and 2009. The firms received a total of $970.9 million in contracts.
“In my case, I’ve known (about it) for 10 years,” Tremblay said of allegations of collusion in contract bidding.
“I asked the question of other elected officials who’ve known about it for 17 years.”
Tremblay was first elected mayor in November 2001.
However, the mayor refused to say how he knows that corruption started in 1993.
Questioned by a Gazette reporter after the news conference had ended, Tremblay retreated to his office, and three city-hall security guards blocked the reporter from entering.
“It’s public information,” he said before the door shut.
The mayor’s precision about when corruption began startled municipal observers.
There was no municipal election or major project launched in 1993. It was the middle of the second mandate of the administration of Mayor Jean DorÃ© and his Montreal Citizens’ Movement party. Pierre Bourque and his Vision Montreal party were elected in November 1994.
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Arnold Bennett, who was an MCM councillor for 12 years in the 1970s and ’80s, said of Tremblay.
“Of course it also happened before (1993). Montreal was notorious for corruption.”
For instance, a provincial inquiry headed by Justice Albert Malouf into the 1976 Olympic Games, which placed most of the blame for the Games’ $1-billion deficit on then-mayor Jean Drapeau, led to corruption charges against GÃ©rard Niding, who was chairman of Montreal’s executive committee.
Niding pleaded guilty to breach of trust and accepting a bribe for passing untendered Olympic construction contracts to an engineer who built a house for him in exchange.
Bennett added that the DorÃ© administration then offered “eight years of clean government.”
In 1995 and 1996, during Bourque’s first term, Vision Montreal was hit with more than 220 charges of illegal fundraising.
“It’s a surprise statement for me,” Heritage Montreal program director Dinu Bumbaru said. “I don’t know if he (Tremblay) is trying to shine as the guy who got the problem from everybody else and is going to resolve it.”
Still, Bumbaru said he agrees that the allegations swirling around city hall now must be put into context.
“It’s not a new topic, but it’s certainly something they should address today with a sense of how come something that was apparently solved in past decades has come back again,” he said.
DorÃ© and Bourque did not return calls yesterday.
The auditor general’s report this week also highlighted irregularities in the awarding of a major city contract to the telecommunications firm Telus, which the report said is behind schedule and over budget, and the Montreal police department’s awarding of work to private security firm BCIA without a signed contract or approval from the executive committee.