This morning, Quebec’s anti-corruption squad Unité permanente anticorruption arrested businessman Tony Accurso, along with construction firm owner Normand Trudel and Richard Marcotte, mayor of the Montreal suburb of Mascouche (and former Liberal candidate). Charges are imminent. What follows is a look at Accurso’s influence in Quebec politics and construction industry.
He was the guy who kept getting away.
More than any single individual, no man has better incarnated the decidedly shady connection between Quebec’s construction industry and its various levels of government than Tony Accurso. The construction magnate and noted recluse would be an anachronism anywhere else in the country—an old-time throwback to when politicians fraternized with the men who build the roads and service the cities they oversee. Yet in Quebec, Accurso did just that with brazen regularity. His yacht—appropriately named Touch—was moored in the Bahamas, and was the destination of choice for a variety of politicians and union types. Notably, Frank Zampino, then president of the city’s executive committee, twice lounged on Touch while the city was negotiating a $356 million water metre contract. You need only ask three questions to get an idea of the symbiotic relationship between the two—and the potential consequence to the taxpayer.
Who ended up receiving the contract? A consortium including Accurso’s construction firm, Simard-Beaudry.
Why was the contract eventually annulled by the City of Montreal? Because The contract, which was awarded without debate in 2007, was “Too fast, too big, too expensive”, in the words of an auditor’s report released in 2010.
And where did Zampino find work in the weeks after leaving politics following the water metre debacle? Dessau, which was the other half of the consortium that birthed the wildly inflated water metre contract.
But back to Accurso. In 2010, Louisbourg and Simard-Beaudry, two Accurso-owned construction companies, pleaded guilty to tax evasion to the tune of $8 million. Considering the weight and influence of these two companies—you can hardly drive past a road construction site in the Montreal area without seeing one of the two logos—this in itself would be incredible. But consider this delicious bit of hubris: Accurso’s companies had attempted to claim part of that $8 million as expenses associated with the building and upkeep of Touch. The funniest/saddest part of the equation, of course, is that Touch really was a business expense. Just ask Frank Zampino.
Accurso had tentacles everywhere in Montreal and the surrounding areas. A La Presse investigation last fall indicated that a quarter of all public works contracts in Laval between 2001 and 2008 were awarded to Accurso-owned firms. Accurso’s closeness to various Montreal politicians has been part of the huge controversy in the city’s construction industry in the past two years. “It is widely known that Mr. Accurso has direct access to the offices of Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt,” wrote La Presse’s Bruno Bisson and André Noël in the fall of 2009.
He also has tentacles elsewhere. Accurso’s current girlfriend is a Montreal-based senior manager at a large Canadian bank.
What does Accurso’s arrest mean politically? In politics, as in police work and prostitution, appearances are everything, and this is a mighty big coup for the Liberals. We’re going to see an election called in the coming months, and having Accurso nabbed by the anti-corruption squad his government created is the stuff of campaign gold for Jean Charest. There is a monstrous counterintuitive aspect to this, of course: the Charest’s Liberals have been plagued by corruption allegations throughout their time in government. Yet as Charest himself well knows, the electorate’s collective memory is blessedly short, and having Accurso’s head above the mantlepiece—as well as those of the student movement, which the Liberals are also in the process of stuffing—certainly doesn’t hurt for Charest’s fourth kick at the can.