The PQ government, feeling the heat from the corruption scandal in Montreal, is defending a deputy minister who was once the right-hand man of former mayor Gérald Tremblay.
Jean-François Lisée, the minister responsible for Montreal, said deputy minister André Lavallée was questioned behind closed doors by members of the Charbonneau commission for four hours on two occasions and that he wasn't found to have been involved in any of the irregularities that have surfaced during the inquiry. Mr. Tremblay resigned earlier this month as Montreal mayor over allegations of kickbacks and influence peddling.
"At no time did I ask [Mr. Lavallée] to resign. I chose him for his competence … and as soon as the controversy began I defended him from beginning to end," Mr. Lisée said. In an unusual move, however, Mr. Lisée ordered his deputy minister to meet with the press to explain that he was unaware of the estimated 30-per-cent overcharging on public contracts in Montreal that was outlined in an internal report.
Mr. Lavallée denied having any knowledge of the system of corruption that, according to testimony before the Charbonneau commission, was rampant in the city. "At no time was I informed of the existence of a pattern of collusion and corruption," Mr. Lavallée said. "I was part of the municipal council for 16 years and at no time did the police intervene to tell us to be careful about certain individuals who may have had ties with biker gangs or organized crime."
However, the opposition rejected Mr. Lavallée's explanation out of hand. Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault argued that while Mr. Lavallée may not have been aware of the corruption in Montreal, he was nonetheless part of an administration that mismanaged public funds and should resign.
"If Mr. Lavallée didn't know that contracts were boosted by 30 per cent, I have a problem with that," Mr. Legault said. "Let's just say he's not a great manager … I'm not reassured to have André Lavallée as deputy minister."
Meanwhile, the PQ appointed a special auditor to oversee the management and awarding of municipal contracts in Laval. The province will wait until the end of the week before deciding whether to take similar action in Montreal. An interim mayor to replace Mr. Tremblay will be chosen on Friday.
The Laval appointment comes only days after Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault refused to intervene in Laval's affairs. The city's mayor, Gilles Vaillancourt, was forced out of office after coming under intense police investigation by the provincial anti-corruption squad.
Mr. Gaudreault denied he caved in to pressure from the CAQ, which demanded the appointment of an independent observer to oversee the municipal governments of Laval and Montreal. "My interest in all of this is to act. The people of Laval want us to act right away. The special auditor will report back to the minister on a regular basis over the course of the next year," Mr. Gaudreault said.
City councillors in Laval were furious over the decision to appoint a special auditor. City council is made up exlusively of councillors elected under Mr. Vaillancourt's political party. There is no opposition at city hall, which is one of the reasons given by Mr. Gaudreault to explain his decision.
Basile Angelopoulos, vice-president of the city's executive council, withdrew his candidacy as interim mayor as a sign of protest.
"It appears quite clearly that the government has no confidence in the city council of Laval," Mr. Angelopoulos said. "I want to underscore the fact that no charges have been laid against anyone. It is obvious that the rules being applied to Laval are considerably different than the ones applied to other Quebec municipalities."
He warned that unless city council received an adequate explanation from the minister for such a decision, no one would come forward to act as interim mayor.