Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Charges force out another Que. mayor

Resignation in Laval amid corruption allegations

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LAVAL, Que. -- In one memorable, scandal-plagued week, no less than one-quarter of Quebecers have seen their mayor resign under a cloud of suspicion.

The head of the province's third-largest city, Laval, announced his resignation Friday, just a few days after his Montreal counterpart tiptoed down the same political plank.

The cause: a public mutiny over corruption allegations.

It was a steep fall for Gilles Vaillancourt of Laval, who had been so electorally dominant over the course of a 23-year mayoral career that his critics would call him "the Monarch."

In a solemn resignation announcement, Vaillancourt lamented the current climate of suspicion in Quebec. He has in the past loudly protested his innocence and threatened to sue those who accused him of corruption. But on Friday, he protested less quietly. He simply suggested he had been hard done by.

"We are going through a very difficult, very painful moment as a society," Vaillancourt told reporters.

"All elected people, at all levels, are accused of all sorts of wrongdoing. We're hearing all sorts of things, we're facing allegations that without being proven can irreversibly change someone's reputation... I am one of these people, and I'm deeply hurt."

He suggested quitting was his only option: "Whatever I say or do... the damage (to my reputation) is done."

As he resigned, a protester outside city hall held up an anti-Vaillancourt sign while wearing mock $100 bills stuck to his jacket.

The mayor touted his record in overseeing the development of a once-sleepy farming community into a bustling and fast-growing municipality. He said he had always worked for Laval residents. Vaillancourt thanked journalists for their coverage during his career, then turned around and walked away without taking any questions.

Vaillancourt, 72, had been on sick leave since Oct. 24.

The provincial government saluted his decision Friday, saying it was time for residents to look to the future. A provincial opposition party, the Coalition, urged the government to send an independent observer into Laval to keep an eye on things -- given that Vaillancourt's party dominates council, having won every seat in the last election.

Quebec's anti-corruption unit had closed in on Laval in recent weeks, raiding numerous engineering firms and businesses in addition to Vaillancourt's own home, condo, offices and his bank safety-deposit boxes.

Vaillancourt's name has also been mentioned in ongoing testimony before Quebec's Charbonneau inquiry into corruption. Former construction boss Lino Zambito testified Vaillancourt received a kickback on contracts handed out in Laval. Vaillancourt has denied that.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 A20

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