Crushed under the weight of corruption allegations, Laval is now under trusteeship, fully controlled by government-appointed officials.
Florent Gagné, a former senior Quebec bureaucrat who was once the head of the Sûreté du Québec, was named to take charge of Quebec’s third-largest city, which is facing allegations that it was overrun for decades by corrupt practices.
The provincial cabinet adopted a decree on Monday ordering the Quebec Municipal Commission to take charge.
“This decision is the result of a series of exceptional events that has shaken the administration of the City of Laval, but, more importantly, has seriously undermined the confidence of the citizens of Laval,” Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault said. “Our decision was motivated in the interest of the City of Laval, its population and the municipal institutions.”
He said the trusteeship will likely end shortly after the municipal elections on Nov. 3.
In the meantime, Mr. Gagné and two administrative judges from the Quebec Municipal Commission will have full authority to approve or reject all decisions of the current council.
“We are not here to conduct an inquiry,” Mr. Gagné said. “But that won’t stop us from looking into what has been done here in the past.”
Mr. Gagné explained that the municipal council will still operate and adopt resolutions and by-laws, but it will not have the authority to implement decisions without the approval of the trustees.
“We are not here to replace the municipal council and the executive committee. We are here to do a post-evaluation of the decisions taken, to approve them, reject them or postpone them,” Mr. Gagné said.
The decision to place the city in trusteeship was made after allegations at the Charbonneau commission into corruption that interim mayor Alexandre Duplessis and almost every municipal councillor were involved in illegal fundraising.
A long-time official in Mr. Duplessis’ PRO des Lavallois party, Jean Bertrand, told the inquiry last week that Mr. Duplessis, other city councillors and family members took cash from engineering firms and used it for illegal political donations.
He said the practice dated back at least to the 1990s. The party’s founder, former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, was recently charged with bribery, fraud and gangsterism in connection with corruption allegations.
Mr. Duplessis denied the allegations, but the province gave him little choice but to request trusteeship. He said he can stay on as mayor.
“I believe we have 100 per cent legitimacy to remain on council and assume our responsibilities,” Mr. Duplessis said during a brief news conference on Monday. “My role is completely legitimate and I will stay on as mayor until November.”
The Coalition Avenir Quebec party called for the province to remove Mr. Duplessis.
Premier Pauline Marois said the situation in Laval was disconcerting and trusteeship was unavoidable.
“It’s quite terrible, shameful and sad. I think it was a wise decision on the part of the current mayor of Laval that he should ask assistance from the government, to which we responded favourably,” the Premier said in Montreal on Monday.