MONTREAL – A bizarre municipal election campaign in scandal-plagued Laval, Que., marred by allegations of criminal threats and thuggery, got even stranger Friday.
One party’s campaign manager suddenly quit, just a few days after he claimed to have been assaulted.
The surprise resignation of the Option Laval party’s Reny Gagnon came as he was drawing considerable attention upon declaring he’d been beaten up Monday.
That alleged incident had attracted copious media coverage, especially as it came a few hours after his party released a recording of controversial ex-mayor Gilles Vaillancourt. In the tape the ex-mayor, who faces criminal charges, is overheard offering financial assistance to the Option Laval mayoral bid.
Now Gagnon is gone from the campaign.
He tendered his resignation after another media report suggested Friday that provincial police were wondering whether his story had been made up, and were investigating him for mischief.
In a statement released Friday, Gagnon said he is temporarily quitting the party headed by Claire Le Bel because he doesn’t want to hinder its campaign leading up to the Nov. 3 election.
“My personal and professional commitment in recent years are based on two pillars, integrity and ethics,” Gagnon said in the statement.
“I think Madame Le Bel must be allowed to campaign on these qualities which she also possesses and the doubts raised (about me) are a distraction for her and the Option Laval party.”
Quebec provincial police are saying only that their investigation remains open and they won’t comment further. Sources within the party say Gagnon is standing by his version of the events.
In a brief interview, Le Bel said Gagnon was the one who offered to leave. She said she accepted his resignation, and continues to support him.
As for the possibility that the complaint to police was made up, Le Bel said there’s nothing to indicate that for now.
“I spoke to investigators and there’s no question of that,” Le Bel said.
“They told me they’re continuing their investigation and there’s no evidence to suggest that the (target of the investigation) is going to be reversed.”
Le Bel is the only one of Vaillancourt’s former councillors to run for the mayor’s seat. His long-ruling, scandal-soaked party has been dissolved.
She said she went public with the surreptitious recording because she felt Laval residents deserved to know about it.
She has been under police guard since that revelation. A copy of the recording was also given to Quebec’s anti-corruption unit.
One other Laval mayoral candidate, Marc Demers, has said he went to police over an alleged threat that he would have his “leg broken.” The idea that someone might hurt Demers was allegedly floated by Vaillancourt in the recorded conversation.
Vaillancourt, the ex-mayor, was dubbed the “Monarch of Laval” during his 23-year reign in the well-to-do suburb north of Montreal.
It all came crashing down after his name started surfacing at Quebec’s corruption inquiry, and his home and office were targeted in police raids.
The ex-mayor resigned in November 2012. He was eventually arrested, with 36 others, in May 2013. In addition to a serious gangsterism charge, Vaillancourt is charged with conspiracy, fraud, influence-peddling, and breach of trust. A preliminary hearing will be held next summer.
Since his departure, Laval has had two interim mayors. The first was forced to resign amid other controversies. The city has also been placed under trusteeship by the province.
Unlike Laval, Montreal has not been placed under trusteeship. But it has also seen its mayor, and then his interim replacement, resign in controversy.