Isn’t it time to wise up to the wise guys?

Paul Wells on the (non)response of MPs to an epidemic of corruption, kickbacks and death threats

by Paul Wells

Christinne Muschi/Reuters

Perhaps clarification is in order. The most important career change in Montreal this week was not the resignation of Gérald Tremblay, who from 2001 until Monday sat in the office usually reserved for the city’s mayor. By his own admission, Tremblay was a kind of lucky tourist, mostly unaware of the rampant corruption in Montreal and entirely unable to control it. “I asked the public servants and the councillors why I had not been informed about this,” he said, and, “I fought—often alone,” and, “I would have expected a more attentive and more urgent hearing from the government.”

Off he goes. Sad story. Wave bye-bye. But let us not be distracted. The most important career change in Montreal this week happened when Joe Di Maulo’s bullet-riddled body smacked the driveway outside his home in the genteel suburb of Blainville and, a short time after, assumed the temperature of the tarmac. I nominate Di Maulo, post mortem, as Montreal’s real mayor, because there seems to have been very little in that city which happened without his knowledge and approval.

Ever since somebody hid outside Nicolo “Zio Cola” Rizzuto’s home in 2010 and sent the 86-year-old Mob boss to his maker with a shot from a sniper rifle, Di Maulo had become part of a group struggling to control organized crime activity in Montreal, which is, you know, a lot of activity. And bad things kept happening to the rest of the group. Here I am indebted to ace Montreal Gazette crime reporter Paul Cherry for the details: Salvatore “Sal the Ironworker” Montagna was murdered last autumn. Antonio “Tony Suzuki” Pietrantonio was shot soon after, but survived. Di Maulo, a lifer whose name appears in Mob histories dating back to the ’60s, managed to stay neutral among factions. “If you had a problem, you went to see Joe,” La Presse reporter Daniel Renaud was told by one of his sources.

I don’t know anyone in Montreal who went to see Gérald if he had a problem. Two Quebec government cabinet ministers said Tremblay was a wise man to resign. But Joe Di Maulo was a wise guy for 40 years, so I’m going to have to give it to him on points.

I’m afraid I have no information for you about how all this news affected the emotions of the House of Commons.

In fact, we’ve had no formal update on the collective emotional state of Parliament’s lower house since 2010. On Sept. 29 of that year, after this magazine ran a cover story calling Quebec the most corrupt province in Canada, the lower house of Parliament voted unanimously, more or less, to express “its profound sadness at the prejudice displayed and the stereotypes employed by Maclean’s magazine to denigrate the Quebec nation, its history and its institutions.”

That was the week we ran a cover photo of Bonhomme Carnaval carrying a satchel stuffed with cash next to the headline “The most corrupt province in Canada.” The articles inside detailed precisely the sort of goings-on that led directly to Tremblay’s comically belated resignation.

You’ll note your MPs’ selective sense of woe. It’s not the epidemic of corruption, kickbacks, contract-fixing, influence-peddling and death threats that brought a cloud into their sunny day. It was our insouciance in pointing all of this out. Joe Di Maolo was an institution in the Quebec nation, indisputably part of its history. What’s the proper way to describe his work and legacy? Which prejudices and stereotypes should be avoided?

And what business was this of parliamentarians in the first place? No offence, guys and ladies, but you are lousy editors. When Nic Rizzuto took a bullet, not a peep. When Sal the Ironworker and Tony Suzuki went down hard, the House of Commons had nothing to say. Testimony at the Charbonneau commission reveals that mobsters’ favoured method for disposing of wads of cash from their construction-industry interlocutors was to stuff them down their socks. Thousands of dollars. Stacks of bills. But when Montreal’s finer menswear establishments started selling hip waders in the hosiery section, not a peep from your local member of Parliament.

It’d be nice to hear a hint of remorse from MPs who used your time and our name to strike a pose two years ago, but I’m not holding my breath for an apology. The time they spent rapping our knuckles was time they could have spent improving the country. Tom Mulcair bragged later about how he was the one who came up with the “profoundly saddened” comment. But as soon as we put his mug on the cover instead of Bonhomme’s, he was buying Maclean’s by the armful. I’m glad we cheered him up, at least.

It is at last possible to hope the epidemic of corruption in Quebec construction and politics is nearing an end. Good work by reporters, police and clean politicians is driving out bad work by too many others. I wonder whether the disarray in the Mafia is a sign that the cozy protection racket is falling apart. But too many politicians spent too much time looking the other way, which made them part of the protection racket.

In the right light, a lot of MPs look like Gérald Tremblay.




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Isn’t it time to wise up to the wise guys?

  1. The only problem with your original story was ignoring the certainty that there is corruption elsewhere in Canada. The current story ought to warn that one or two changes at the top won’t clean up the organizations involved. No-one has pointed out that everyone ought to be “audited” from the top down, to really clear out the bad practices.

    • It’s so hard to read.

      Here’s how much Marty Patriquin’s story ignored the certainty that there is corruption elsewhere in Canada:

      ‘Certainly, Quebec doesn’t have a monopoly on bad behaviour. It was in British Columbia that three premiers—Bill Vander Zalm, Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark—were punted from office in short order for a variety of shenanigans by their governments in the 1990s. In the mid-’90s, no less than 12 members of Saskatchewan Conservative premier Grant Devine’s government were charged in relation to an $837,000 expense account scheme. Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister—and the first to go down in scandal, with his government forced to resign—came from Ontario. And the East Coast? “The record of political chicanery is so overflowing in the Maritimes that they could likely teach Quebec a few tricks,” Montreal Gazette political writer Hubert Bauch once wrote.’

      • Patriquin’s piece wasn’t the problem. The cover and the Coyne’s piece were. Don’t you ask yourself why of all the papers/magazines that ran stories on this, only yours got people upset? If anything, the other journalists are now almost considered heroes. Remove the cover and no one would have cared much. But it worked, copies were sold.

        Moreover, from what you just cited. Is there anything in that that was used to determine which province was the 2nd most corrupt? Of course not.

        • And again: The guy getting shot in his driveway in Blainville. The guy getting shot through his kitchen window after a lifetime of leeching off ordinary people’s honest work. The hip waders full of taxpayer cash. Amid all that, the problem was that we photoshopped a picture of a mascot? At the risk of disappointing you, I’m not ever going to agree with that.

          • You’re comparing two different things. Organized crime, corruption and collusion is a big problem. I for one I’m glad that the Charbonneau commission is underway and that the police is starting to get busy. We have a problem and we need to fix it. But that would have happened whether or not Maclean’s ran that particular issue. There is no credit to be given here, but you sure seem to think there is. My feelings on the issue are completely independent of my feelings about what is happening.

          • Nobody really cares about your feelings The police are always busy The magazine should get some credit for exposing the problem !!! Sometimes the police are busy covering up crimes ( they would like to keep on working ) When they uncover crimes they don’t phone the press first thing they have to check with their boss !! Quebec doesn’t have a patent on this procedure They may be champions in the corruption industry , but we haven’t seen the data for Mexico Greece Italy Ontario , maybe we can beat them all in crimes per square mile or crimes per person , Let’s wait till we get to see the whole big picture !!!!! I think the whole system should be changed to a fairer voting system , try reading at the fair vote Canada site ! Let’s see an article about that Maclean’s ?

          • Photoshopped a picture of a mascot???

            Only Bon Homme cared about that.

            How about the words THE MOST CORRUPT PROVINCE…..?

            Or put another way……….. the MOST corrupt province…?

            What does it take to get through to Macleans?

          • I agree the article made a bold claim and did not prove it. But the article was true, and Wells’ point here — that the parties cared more about pandering to Quebec than the corruption itself — is also true, as is , what the hell were they doing voting on a magazine article anyway?

            Overall, though Maclean’s may not have proved its absolutist headline, living here just figure that we consider these truths to be self-evident.

          • We have a long history of jumping on the French and naturally the politicians wanted to avoid another round of fighting…..so they handled it the best way they could. Had Macleans left out the words ‘the most’ they could have avoided the whole thing.

          • What does it take to get through to Quebecers that other provinces paid 30% less for their infrastructure and bridges are not falling down on them nearly as frequently from shoddy construction practices? And that killing the messenger, in this case Maclean’s lets the crooks escape scrutiny for that much longer?

          • We could mind our own business, and let the Quebecois handle it?

          • Mr. Wells, I applaud you in your taking the time and sacrificing such patience. All of you so concerned with word “most” need to get over yourselves. Our province in corrupt…other provinces are corrupt, our country is corrupt…people in general are corrupt. Everyone? I hope not, but when it comes to personal gain everyone has their price. (I only mention the latter because I do not want anyone coming back and saying not everyone is corrupt).
            My opinion is that there should be an apology. Macleans pointed out wrong doing and it was ignored. Bickering over the word most is ridiculous. I take it the same way as “this is the BEST coffee / steak / date”..or whatever ” I ever had”. It’s just there for effect and effect is required for the general population to choose this magazine over another. The story needed to be told, and it was.
            Perhaps the lesson learned is to just say something like “Quebec IS a corrupt province” (make sure you ,keep “is” capitilized though)

            Sorry for ranting, but when adults dumb themselves down like this it becomes frustrating. Our province is messed up…deal with it.

  2. Mob has been associated with Montreal for decades, at least, maybe more than century. I agree there is a certain amount of government corruption tolerated across Canada but Que is an outlier. Quebec society tolerates criminal behaviour more than other provs, it is catholic culture, no one is severely punished if they apologize and promise not to be naughty in the future.

    Fed parliament won’t touch this with ten foot pole and that’s why I wish Canada msm had a history of muck-raking and/or investigative journalism. Construction costs were 30% higher in Que than elsewhere, government is laundering $$$ for mafia. Federal government spends lots of $$$ in Que, how much of public money was laundered for criminals. Corruption has been rampant in Montreal for long time and no one is doing anything about it. Tremblay is just one guy, is he really going to change society by himself when it is clearly being tolerated by Que elite.

    I was shocked driving into Montreal last summer and how dodgy the roads are – Que elite are fiddling while Rome burns. Infrastructure is important, access to the world, and Que is closing itself off.

    • When I read MacLeans’s article about corruption in Québec I was outside Canada and considered MacLeans biased. However, 6 months later and living in Québec I always refer to it to support my arguments about corruption here.

      I WAS SCARED WHEN I LANDED IN MONTRÉAL – it’s dirty, has a lot to traffic and holes everywhere. And a lot of them!! Is it Canada? Funny is that always heard here that those holes on the streets are because of the snow! So, when I 1st traveled to Ontario and later to NY, the 1st thing I noticed: where are the holes!? Then I asked myself: so here it may snow *less* than in Québec ‘cos I don’t see holes (LOL). Also, bridges, viaducts, hospitals, daycares, deficits, eq payments, problems all over. The province is broken. Worst: still have to hear that lady talking about independence. Which investor will put money here? Result: year after year, Québec drowns on its own problems. We see it in the numbers.

      Anyways, am optimistic and hope that this Charboneau commission proves anything. At least, 2 less corrupts we already have. Hope it serves to expose that corrupts are everywhere.

      Today, MacLeans and Ontario’s papers are my main source for information because Radio Canada here and the french press are on the same boat – it’s like a brainwash here: don’t talk about the problems as they didn’t exist! It’s bizarre!

      I avoid reading about corruption in Québec because who’s getting sick is me! And there won’t be a place for me in the hospital for the next 10 hours! lol

  3. I’m going to repeat generally a comment I made on your feature editorial on this same subject.

    I don’t take exception with Patriquin’s article. Nor with much of the research and investigative reporting that supports this column.

    But, when your headline writer and coverpage artist claim “Most corrupt province” I would suggest you’d better have the methodology and objective measurements to support your assertion. Complicating the perception of bias in some quarters is that the main reporting was from a Quebec based reporter (born and raised I presume without checking).

    As I mentioned elsewhere, Macleans is no stranger to ranking methodology (annual University report, most socially responsible companies list) so it seems you collectively are coming up short on documented criteria. That is not to say your assertion may not ultimately stand, just that you have not developed any defensible methodology to support it. Anecdotal evidence is not good enough, with respect.

    In contrast, have a look at the methodology developed for ranking most corrupt countries ranking in this Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/dec/01/corruption-index-2011-transparency-international#data

    The Index, which is closely watched by investors, economists, and civil society campaigners, is based on expert assessments and data from 17 surveys from 13 independent institutions, covering issues such as access to information, bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, and the enforcement of anti-corruption laws. While critics note that measuring perceptions of corruption is not the same as measuring corruption itself, the latter is almost impossible to do – as the corrupt are usually keen to cover up their tracks, hard data on graft and bribery is notoriously difficult to come by.

    • The Index that you’ve linked is more difficult to quantify/measure than, say, the best university or most dangerous city in the country. The comparison is not a very strong one. Even the Guardian article itself, which you’ve quoted, states “critics note that measuring perceptions of corruption is not the same as measuring corruption itself.” This is a half-assed way of saying: “We admit that this issue is hard to quantify, but to somewhat disguise that little problem, we’ll create this “disclaimer” and add the words “critics say” before it, to imply that we disagree, but actually don’t.”
      I would have recommended that the Macleans article state “Most openly-corrupt province” rather than merely “Most corrupt.” But it has a little less of a “wow” factor, by adding the word “openly.” There could very well be more corrupt provinces in the country, but it’s hard to say, since we don’t hear about similar problems in other provinces (certainly not at the same scale).

      • It seems (to me at least – I don’t follow this as closely as others) the corruption and turf war reported so far is limited to a few major municipalities. Maybe even the designation of province is questionable.

        • The 2 municipalities of Montreal and Laval hold 25% of the Province’s population and the 2nd largest city in Canada. I agree with your general point that the article ws maddeningly short on actual comparables and figures. But I live here (and have lived in other provinces) and I assure you it’s true observationally — systemic corruption as part of the culture.

          As to THIS article by Wells, his overall point is also a good one — why the hell were Parliamentarians taking up extremely valuable time from their extremely short working lives to move on a magazine article???

          • It was indeed a silly use of time by parliament passing the Bloc motion. Most reasonable people took it for what it was worth.

    • I trust that you write similar comments protesting the qualitative adjectives of other magazines. You must be outraged annually by People’s “Sexiest Man of the Year” covers.

      • Personally, it doesn’t bother me one way or the other. But, I’m not the organization whining through at least two blog posts, a note from the editors and Wells’s column all asking for an apology.

        The general rule is: you made your bed, now lie in it.

  4. Well – I think that Quebec is the most corrupt province in Canada that WE KNOW OF!

    Quebec inquiry hears about Ontario’s Mafia connections: http://www.globalnews.ca/quebec+inquiry+hears+about+ontarios+mafia+connections/6442718975/story.html
    Thursday, September 20, 2012
    MONTREAL – An Ontario police officer has testified in a public inquiry that the Italian Mafia’s reach in that province extends to all kinds of legitimate businesses that mask criminal proceeds.

    Mike Amato, a detective with the York Regional police, is testifying today before the Quebec inquiry looking into allegations of corruption in the province’s construction industry.

    Amato, describing the Mob picture in Ontario, says Mafia-controlled businesses in the region he works in include everything from garden centres to financial institutions to banquet halls.

    Read it on Global News: Quebec inquiry hears about Ontario’ s Mafia connections

  5. I was recently in Miami and chatted with a bandleader during the band’s break. He mentioned that they appreciated all the Canadian french visitors and stated that they were responsible for much or the renovations and refurbishing of Miami’s Art Deco hotels and buildings. For those who don’t know this area, it is a trendy and expensive area in South Beach. Sounds like money laundering to me. Maybe McLeans should investigate ownership in those areas. And I wonder if any of Quebec’s politicians names might show up on some of the guest registers.

  6. So, according to CBC’s Marketplace, there is currently no law here in Canada prohibiting “mafia affiliation”, unlike back in Italy. Why not? We could perhaps decide which province is “least corrupt” according to which of them is last to pass and implement such a law.

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