NEW YORK - Montreal's mayor sought to convince Manhattan business leaders Tuesday that his administration is moving past the corruption scandals that brought down his two predecessors and have become the “elephant in the room” when trying to lure investment to Canada's second largest city.
At a luncheon speech to the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Denis Coderre said he is looking to New York City for inspiration.
He highlighted the creation of Montreal's Inspector General's office, which has sweeping powers to investigate municipal contracts. The new agency is inspired partly by New York City's Department of Investigations, created in 1873 in response to the scandal over municipal funds stolen by William “Boss” Tweed and his associates, who controlled the city through the infamous Tammany Hall political machine.
An ongoing inquiry in Quebec has uncovered longstanding links between the construction industry, organized crime, and elected officials in the French-speaking province. The Charbonneau Commission has heard testimony from former city officials detailing hundreds of dollars in kickbacks on rigged contracts dating back decades. It also heard that engineering companies got around a ban on corporate political donations by having employees and their staffers contribute millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of Quebec's three main political parties.
Coderre, a former Liberal parliament member, was elected mayor in November after his two predecessors were forced out within months of each other over the scandals.
“Montreal is back for business,” Coderre said in his speech. “I thought about New York. Why? Of course you've had your challenges in the past but you have had some great opportunity and some great ideas that I thought we could apply to Montreal.”
In an interview with The Associated Press later, Coderre said corruption “is the elephant in the room” when trying to encourage investment in Montreal, a financial and aerospace hub that also has a vibrant video game industry.
Coderre dismissed criticism from some of his opponents that the Inspector General is a wasteful idea that duplicates the functions of Montreal's auditor general and controller general. He said the Inspector General has enforcement powers that the other two agencies lack, including suspending suspicious municipal contracts.
Seeking guidance, Coderre met Monday with Mark Peters, the DOI commissioner appointed in January by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Coderre said the meeting reinforced his conviction that he was “bang on” in the measures he has taken to ensure the Inspector General's independence.
Montreal's City Council easily ratified Coderre's choice for inspector general - Denis Gallant, a member of the Charbonneau Commission and a former prosecutor who specialized in organized crime.
“He's his own boss. I wanted to send the message that he belongs to the Montrealers. He wasn't appointed by the mayor,” Coderre told AP.
But Coderre acknowledged that with 25 employees and a budget of $5 million, the Inspector General's office is far more modest in scope than its New York City counterpart, a full-fledged law-enforcement agency. The DOI was recently expanded to include the first-ever inspector general of the New York Police Department, a move that was criticized by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg as redundant.
Montreal's new agency will focus on administrative wrongdoing but will leave criminal investigations to the police.
Coderre insisted that he pays little attention to the scandal enveloping Canada's largest city - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's has admitted using crack cocaine and other erratic behaviour. Still, he took a slight swipe at Canada's most infamous mayor.
“I don't care about that mayor. I ignore him,” he said. “Toronto deserves better, so I don't go there.”