For the past 18 months, the Charbonneau Commission has been investigating the linkages between organized crime and the awarding of municipal contracts to the Québec construction industry. The existence of construction company cartels with links to the Mafia and to the funding drives of municipal and provincial political parties has been revealed. Cartel members agree upon the price of municipal contracts and who is next on the "list" to get a contract. Prices are inflated and unnecessary cost overruns are incurred with the aid of colluding officials and bureaucrats. For example, the contract's "fair market" price will be inflated by 30%. Inflated costs will be ignored by city employees whose job is to scrutinize contracts - in return for a "cut" of several percent of the total worth of the contract, of course. In general, several layers of corruption may be involved, each peeling off a few percent of the contract's value. The contractors and the mafia roll in the big bucks. Minor players in city hall and consulting firms live a life of perks.
Question: if you have an extra 10 grand or so payed under the table per annum, what exactly are you going to do with it? It is, after all, "hot" money. From the responses I've heard from witnesses at the Charbonneau Commission, there is a strong pressure to burn hot money, presumably so it won't show up on ledgers anywhere. So it gets burned on high living for corrupt officials. In the case of ex-mayor Gilles Vaillancourt of Laval, who was a local godfather type figure - "the King of Laval", millions of dollars were allegedly spirited away to overseas tax havens.
King of Laval used mules to smuggle $ to Swiss banks
Meanwhile the public overpays a neat 30% on city (and provincial) contracts. And then, we are told by the politicians, we need to cut government, education, social services, pensions, rehabilitation programs.. And of course gotta crack down hard on phony refugee claims, welfare bums and recidivist unemployment assurance claimants, all those who try to "game the system". Indeed.. And so Pincocchio's nose grows..
There is, of course, a price to payed for this silliness, a potentially very high price in social disruption. In the article cited above, a reader poll revealed some exceedingly disquieting statistics:
9% Yes 130 votes
84% No 1255 votes
6% I'm not sure 93 votes
This is scary! With my - apparently - Pollyannaish view of life, I voted unhesitatingly "yes" on the poll question. To me, there is a cyclic element in the life of corruption. The beast grows strong until its depradations become intolerable. Then some knights in shining armor go and kill it and establish a New World Order. Till the beast ressucitates.. In the meantime, one enjoys a period of transparent and progressive government. That's how it's supposed to work, anyway..
I was actually looking forward to a period of clean government, following this big house cleaning. With a bit of luck, I envisioned a forward looking, rejuvenated Québec that could actually become a model for other jurisdictions in North America - and elsewhere - to emulate in these early days of the new century..
I also took a bit of pride in being Québécois for another reason. I live in a society which has some expectations of governmental transparency, intellectual honesty and fair play. If we did not have this shared - mostly uncounscious - backdrop of assumed moral values, an exercise like the Charbonneau Commission would simply be unthinkable. If we didn't have a Charbonneau Commission, then we would really have a lot to worry about.. :-0
The undercurrent of cynicism revealed in the above poll is, to me, very disquieting. While the respondants of the poll do not necessarily reflect the views of the general public, 90% of the respondants believe that our political system is so corrupt it cannot be reformed. Is that not a formula for fascism? Powerless people will seek a superhero, a messiah, who will sweep away the evil Old World Order and institute a New Age of Peace and Plenty. The 20th century, we should recall was awash in blood shed by the neo-messianic movements of deperate peoples whether Marx's utopian Classless Society or the Nazis' (equally utopian!) "thousand year Reich" with its apocalyptic (post-)Christian overtones:
tausendjähriges reich 1 - thousand year Reich
Anyway, back to cheerier topics. "Montréal rock 'n roll". In the last few months, several mayors and lesser luminaries have been forced to resign including Montréal's ex-mayor, Gérald Tremblay. Tremblay was replaced by interim mayor Michael Appelbaum who now, himself, is under criminal investigation for fraud, breach of trust, corruption and God knows what else. Fourteen counts, at my last counting. What major American city can outfunk good ol' Montréal rock 'n roll?
Montréals' harried ex-mayor being led to court by provincial police.
We'll even give Toronta the Good a run for their money with their (allegedly) crack-smokin' mayor Rob Ford.. Yah, suck it up Toronta..
At last notice, the Province of Québec was still debating whether the city of Montréal should be placed under trusteeship. Interesting times!