The minister in charge of Quebec’s municipalities has declared an end to the era of corruption in the province’s big cities.
Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault says Sunday night’s election results will allow cities like Montreal and Laval to move on – despite ongoing police investigations into graft and bribery, dozens of trials yet to come against a host of elected officials and civil servants, along with the ongoing work of the Charbonneau inquiry which won’t deliver a final report or recommendations until 2015.
“I think yesterday we turned the page. It’s a new moment for the future of Montreal and for Laval. I think today it’s very important to work for the future,” Mr. Gaudreault said. “Corruption is behind us. I think this is the most important message.”
The Parti Québécois minister said the arrival of a new mayor in Laval, ex-cop Marc Demers, should allow the government to soon lift trusteeship on the city. “It will be a matter of days or weeks. It’s a matter of transition from the previous administration to the new one,” Mr. Gaudreault said.
Even as Mr. Gaudreault spoke, the Charbonneau commission heard testimony from a union boss being questioned about the infiltration of organized crime into the labour movement.
Whether the era of corruption is over or not, Quebec’s municipal elections have set the stage for a battle to bring big-city pension deficits under control and sparked renewal of the traditional rivalry between Quebec City and Montreal.
Fresh off a landslide victory in an election fought over pensions, Quebec City mayor Régis Labeaume promised to plunge ahead to get under control a $500-million hole in the city’s retirement plan, despite a plea from the provincial government to await a broader plan to deal with the problem.
Quebec municipal pension plans have a $5-billion shortfall, including $2.5-billion in the largest plan in Montreal. Mr. Labeaume had hoped to create a common front with newly elected and equally flamboyant incoming Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, but he said Mr. Coderre has not been taking his calls in the hours since they both won.
Mr. Coderre told a Montreal radio station Monday morning that Mr. Labeaume “needs to calm down” about the pension fight, and that he has no intention of negotiating in public.
“What’s that all about? The power trip has started early. It’s very curious,” Mr. Labeaume said during a news conference in Quebec City.
Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault urged for calm on the pension front, which has already seen angry confrontations between Mr. Labeaume and union leaders. He said civic leaders should wait for the action plan Labour Minister Agnès Maltais is preparing before attempting reforms.
“This is not a question to be settled just for the short term, it’s something that will effect an entire generation,” Mr. Gaudreault said.
Mr. Labeaume says he is willing to negotiate, but he says his next budget will get spending on wages and pensions under control. If union leaders do not accept concessions on pensions and other benefits, there will be wage and job cuts, he said. “They can do what they want, but it will be dealt with, one way or another,” he said.
Mr. Gaudreault applauded the five percentage point rise in voter participation in the election, including a five point hike in Montreal.