MONTREAL -- Montreal's mayor has resigned in the midst of a corruption scandal, becoming the highest-profile political casualty of the controversies rocking Quebec.
A defensive Gerald Tremblay said he had done nothing wrong but was stepping aside for the greater good of a city that has been politically paralyzed.
He made the announcement late Monday at a city hall where large construction contracts have been frozen; current municipal employees have been suspended; past employees face criminal charges; and an unpopular budget has had to be abandoned.
"Under these circumstances, I cannot help any more," Tremblay said in a solemn speech. "The success of our city is much more important than my personal interest."
The 70-year-old mayor held onto office just long enough to delay an election to replace him -- which would have been triggered had he resigned a few days earlier.
Tremblay had avoided the public eye last week, taking two days off work. Because he has quit after Nov. 3, less than a year until the next scheduled election, provincial law says he can be replaced with an interim mayor chosen by the city council that his scandal-plagued party controls.
Tremblay insisted he was unaware of corruption in his administration and only learned about it after the fact, saying Monday he felt betrayed by the people who had abused his trust.
"My father told me not to get into politics because it was dirty and would destroy me," Tremblay said, adding his love of Quebec and Montreal drew him to provincial and municipal politics over a 25-year career.
"I dedicated myself to the success of Montreal, based on my Judeo-Christian values of helping one another, in solidarity, integrity, openness, respect for human dignity, social justice and peace."
Monday's announcement came after years of scandal that inched close to the mayor. Tremblay's onetime closest associates have either been slapped with criminal charges or been accused of corruption at an ongoing inquiry.
The inquiry has heard the same man who collected cash from the construction industry for the Italian Mafia also collected a three per cent kickback for the mayor's Union Montreal party from the value of public works projects.
The latest, sharpest blow came last week when a witness at the inquiry said Tremblay was not only aware of illegal financing within his political party but was indifferent to it.
This was after the mayor had spent years telling Montrealers he'd been unaware of any corruption.
-- The Canadian Press