Is Montreal different, and if so, why?
A couple of years ago Maclean’s magazine ran a cover story that labelled Quebec the most corrupt province in Canada. The cover art depicted the beloved Bonhomme Carnaval lugging a briefcase overflowing with cash, leaving a trail of dollar bills in his wake. Reaction to the story was widespread and furious, eventually leading all parties in the House of Commons to pass a motion expressing “profound sadness” at the magazine’s Quebec-bashing.1 But in light of the past months of lurid testimony before Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission about corruption and collusion practices, in Montreal especially, perhaps we need to acknowledge that Martin Patriquin, the author of the article, got more right than his outraged critics.
Gobsmacked viewers of the Charbonneau Commission’s proceedings have heard witnesses testify to a panoply of patronage techniques reminiscent of the bad old days when Maurice Duplessis and the Union Nationale ruled the province like a personal fiefdom. We heard of secret meetings during which bagmen shovelled wads of cash into their socks for safekeeping; a safe belonging to the city’s governing political party stuffed so full of cash that its door wouldn’t close; a fundraiser for that same governing party who earned the nickname of “Mr. Three Per Cent” for his habit of skimming a portion of municipal contracts from businesses that won bids to do city work; a construction boss who allegedly threatened to bury a city official in one of his sidewalks, for which he was given the moniker “Mr. Sidewalk”; construction and engineering firms that routinely showered city and provincial officials with gifts, including concert tickets (to see Céline Dion!) and access to corporate boxes at Habs games.