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Headshot of Jeffrey Simpson. (Brigitte Bouvier/Brigitte Bouvier/For The Globe and Mail)
Headshot of Jeffrey Simpson. (Brigitte Bouvier/Brigitte Bouvier/For The Globe and Mail)

JEFFREY SIMPSON

The daily shame of Quebec’s rotten state Add to ...

It can’t be easy to be a Montrealer these days, or even a Quebecker. For a justifiably proud city and province, what’s being uncovered in parts of every level of government is disquieting at best, shocking at worst.

For those who got themselves worked up by the sponsorship scandal of the Jean Chrétien years, they might reflect that what’s now being revealed makes the use of federal funds to favoured Liberal advertising firms seem mild by comparison.

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Not a day goes by that some new evidence emerges of corrupt practices in government. And not just in the municipal governments of Montreal and Laval that have both lost mayors to resignation in the wake of evidence, at least contingent evidence, of corrupt practices in these municipalities. The mayors insisted that they were innocent of any wrongdoing, that they had known nothing of the misdeeds being revealed.

This week, on another front, another long-standing inquiry brought charges of bribery and corruption against Montreal businessman Reza Tehrani. He’s charged with 13 counts of conspiracy, fraud and bribery of public officers; his wife faces five charges.

We shall find out in due course whether these charges stick. But they stem from a huge RCMP investigation into allegations of corruption in the Montreal offices of the Canada Revenue Agency. Mr. Tehrani is being charged in connection with his dealings with the CRA office in Montreal.

At this point, nine people have been charged by the RCMP, and at least seven CRA tax auditors and team leaders have been fired. The RCMP alleges that other CRA officials helped construction firms evade taxes.

Which brings us to the daily shame unfolding before the Charbonneau commission into corruption in the construction industry – or should we say corruption of government officials by elements in the construction industry.

So far, the commission has been focusing on employees of the Montreal and Laval governments, and construction officials who dealt with employees in these cities. The testimony is far from being completed about these municipalities, and more damaging testimony can be expected.

What has been unearthed thus far makes it plain that widespread corruption, both petty and deep, permeated these governments for a long time. A culture of corruption developed whereby officials and construction executives did business improperly with payments to officials in cash or kind in exchange for favourable treatment.

In due course, the commission will widen its mark to include perhaps other municipalities and provincial government ministries and the financing of political parties. After all, several provincial ministries are extensively involved in contracting with the construction industry for roads, bridges and the like. Those links have to be investigated.

Indeed, one wonders (this has not come out in testimony) whether the sometimes shoddy state of Quebec’s municipal infrastructure, something grumbled about periodically by citizens, might have something to do with the less-than-stellar work by the companies and government officials supposed to oversee this work.

Once investigation turns to payments to political parties, watch out. Quebec was the first province to place rather strict limits on contributions to parties, a credit of the first Parti Québécois government under René Lévesque. But perhaps payments were made outside the ambit of the law, as has been rumoured for some time but never proven.

How will Quebeckers respond to this evidence that something is rotten in the public state of affairs? Eventually, new laws and procedures will be adopted to try to stamp out corrupt practices, although there are already laws up to and including the Criminal Code.

The PQ will undoubtedly try to profit politically from further revelations, especially if they touch the provincial government that the Liberals ran under Jean Charest. An even wider cynicism about politics is a certain result, because in a province where the vast majority of citizens are honest and honourable, this sort of behaviour is unacceptable.

No one should ever underestimate the pride Quebeckers have in their society. They’re going to be justifiably angry at what they’re learning.

 

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