Quebec is sending its new anti-corruption squad to unearth dirt at Montreal city hall, an investigation that has set off a ping-pong round of finger-pointing between the Charest government and Montreal's mayor.
The Public Security Minister announced Wednesday that Quebec's anti-corruption unit will set its sights on Montreal in the wake of startling disclosures of spying and illegal computer hacking against an elected official.
Claude Dauphin, a borough mayor and former Liberal MNA, surreptitiously had his e-mails opened by a high-ranking city functionary, without police authorization. The revelation came on the tail of a string of other allegations of corruption and ethical breaches under Mayor Gérald Tremblay's tenure.
"There is profound concern about what's going on," Public Security Minister Robert Dutil said in Quebec City. "The allegations of recent days are not acceptable. We cannot tolerate the weakening of an institution like the city of Montreal."
The succession of scandals has eroded the mayor's standing and led to a poisonous atmosphere at city hall. But hours after Quebec's announcement, a defiant Mr. Tremblay pushed back, saying the tumult was the result of his campaign to clean house.
"I said that I would clean up, and when you clean up, it bothers people," the mayor told a City Hall press conference. "I'm not worried. Our books are open."
The mayor, irritated that Mr. Dutil didn't phone him before announcing the provincial probe, shot back with some house-cleaning advice of his own. He said what's really needed in Quebec is a provincial inquiry into corruption in the construction industry – an oft-repeated call in Quebec that Premier Jean Charest has refused to heed.
"That's where the real problem is," the mayor said. "Not just in Montreal, but in Quebec."
The tit-for-tat jabs did little to dissipate the less-than-stellar image of the body politic. It's all the more surprising because Mr. Tremblay is a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister.
The investigation into Montreal's affairs marks the maiden assignment for the Liberal government's anti-corruption squad, which was created in February and became a Canadian first. Headed by long-time civil servant Robert Lafrenière, it already includes about 100 of the eventual 189 people on the team, and will make its report public.