Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Has Canada become complacent about corruption?

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Quebeckers were outraged in 2010 when Maclean's labeled their province the most corrupt in the country.

True, a Quebec-based scandal had helped to topple the federal government in 2006, and evidence was mounting of bid-rigging and kickbacks in local administrations. Quebec's defenders claimed, however, that the revelations simply showed that their anti-corruption investigators were more vigilant than others.

Months of damaging testimony to a corruption inquiry have now left even the province's boosters short of excuses. The inquiry, headed by France Charbonneau, a justice of the Quebec Superior Court, this month led to the resignations of Mayor Gerald Tremblay of Montreal and Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt of neighboring Laval. Both still vehemently maintain their innocence, yet had little choice but to go.

Tremblay has not been accused of personal involvement in the kickback scheme, described at the inquiry by two former Montreal engineers, in which the value of construction contracts was fraudulently inflated. The firms involved, some of which are said to have links to the Mafia, allegedly kicked back some of their remuneration to municipal employees and made generous donations to political parties.

The racket took place on Tremblay's watch, however. Martin Dumont, a former organizer for his Union Montreal party, testified that the mayor knew the party kept two sets of books, separating clean and dirty money, but chose to turn a blind eye. Tremblay denies any such knowledge.

Meanwhile Vaillancourt took sick leave and then resigned after anti-corruption police raided his offices. A construction boss told the inquiry that firms were expected to hand over 2.5 per cent of every contract they received in Laval to the mayor. He too denies the allegations.

Other heads already have rolled and more may follow: Charbonneau is due to submit her report in October 2013.

Although the inquiry's mandate is restricted to Quebec, the testimony also has pointed to possible wrongdoing at the federal level and in the neighboring province of Ontario. Assorted criminologists and police officers have testified about the Mafia's sway in Ontario. One theory suggests that the mob there is as powerful as in Quebec, but is less rancorous than its counterpart and so attracts less attention -- particularly given that alleged kingpin Joseph di Maulo was shot dead on Nov. 4 in the driveway of his Quebec home.

None of this means that Canada, which the advocacy group Transparency International rated among the world's cleanest countries in its 2011 index of perceptions of corruption, has suddenly become Nigeria. The episode does suggest, however, that it can no longer be complacent about graft.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2012 A13

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