Few politicians will ever fall as hard as Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum. Six months ago he was being heralded as the city’s answer to its deepening corruption scandal – a crusading anglophone Jew able to reach across Montreal’s political and language divides. Today he is charged with 14 criminal counts and accused of being part of a conspiracy to arrange bribes connected to two real-estate projects. All Montrealers can do now is hang on until the election in November and hope that another candidate emerges who fulfills the promise Mr. Applebaum once embodied.
We were among those pleased by Mr. Applebaum’s election, by council vote, to interim mayor after Gérald Tremblay resigned. Mr. Tremblay had been forced out by the startling revelations coming from the Charbonneau Commission public inquiry into municipal corruption, and his departure was one of a series of blows to the city, its governance and its self-image. Mr. Applebaum, sitting as an independent, became interim mayor by winning the support of opposition parties headed by ardent francophone sovereigntists. It was a momentary truce in Montreal’s language wars, and it left many with the belief that the city had the maturity to see its way out of its corruption crisis.
On Monday morning, Mr. Applebaum was arrested at his house – an extraordinary development. He must now resign, and Montreal will be without a mayor for the second time in six months.
Montreal voters could be forgiven at this point for wondering if there is anyone out there beyond suspicion. Testimony at the Charbonneau Commission has left the impression that corruption is embedded like a sarcoma in city hall’s cell structure. The courageous reporter credited with first exposing the corruption in the 1990s has said the only certain cure would be to throw everyone out of office and start over. “It’s become a culture that needs to be wiped out,” André Cédilot said late last year. “We need an entirely new generation of politicians if we’re really going to change anything.”
Mr. Applebaum’s arrest would seem to confirm the wisdom of such pessimism – he is charged with offences dating as far back as 2006. Montrealers may have to find a mayoral candidate who has never set foot in city hall in order to feel reassured that their trust will not be broken again. Someone with Mr. Applebaum’s promise, but not his resumé.