Skip to main content

Motorists steer past a pothole on a Montreal street.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

An inquiry has shown that corruption held Montreal hostage for the first decade of this millennium, but a vote at City Hall on potholes showed just how little the grip has loosened.

City councillors voted unanimously Friday to award contracts totalling $5.2-million for hot asphalt to fill springtime potholes, even though much of the business will go to companies accused of corruption at the Charbonneau commission.

The vote went against Mayor Michael Applebaum's much ballyhooed public consultation, which showed that 60 per cent of survey respondents preferred to drive through the city's springtime moonscape than put the money in the pockets of alleged crooks.

"We don't want to give out the contract … but it's a question of security," Mr. Applebaum said after the vote.

After a two-hour debate, the vote was unanimous among the 58 councillors present.

"We'll close our eyes, plug our noses and say yes," said Anie Samson, the mayor of the borough of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension.

Louise Harel, the head of the opposition party, Vision Montréal, and the first declared candidate in next fall's municipal election, said the city's political leaders had no choice. She wants the city to start producing its own asphalt, but such a change won't happen in time for this pothole season.

"We don't feel good, that's for sure. There's no joy in this," Ms. Harel said.

Others have suggested Montreal buy asphalt from Ontario, but Mr. Applebaum said pothole filler must be served up hot, so a local supplier is the only choice.

The debate became like a pot of boiling oil gingerly passed between the city, Quebec's anti-corruption squad and the province's securities regulator.

Mr. Applebaum wanted the authorities to investigate the pothole-filling companies, but the anti-corruption squad said its job isn't to provide a seal of approval. The securities authority was given that job late last year, but only after the contracts with asphalt companies were provisionally struck.

Mr. Applebaum decided to consult the public instead, setting up a quick Internet poll that was derided as a half-baked attempt to find political cover for a decision that was sure to be controversial.

"You're questioned if you consult people; you're questioned if you don't," he said.

The Charbonneau inquiry, which has uncovered a vast system of bribes and bid fixing on Montreal construction contracts, continues April 15. Gérald Tremblay, who resigned last fall as the inquiry delivered daily stunning revelations about just how widespread corruption was during his time as Montreal mayor, is expected to be among the next witnesses.