MONTREAL – Montreal’s former mayor settled some political scores on his final day before Quebec’s corruption inquiry as he bitterly described the events that led to his scandal-related departure last fall.
Gerald Tremblay lashed out Monday at the province’s Parti Quebecois government and also at a witness who had testified against him earlier at the inquiry.
As he completed his turn on the witness stand, Tremblay complained about the government’s lack of support and suggested it was Premier Pauline Marois who hastened his exit from politics.
Tremblay left political life last November under a cloud of controversy brought on, in part, by inquiry testimony that he was aware of alleged illegal party financing and did nothing.
The allegation was made by a former aide — who has since recanted another part of his testimony and admitted that he made up some details.
That same aide, Martin Dumont, insisted Monday that the details he shared about Tremblay were true. However, Tremblay vehemently denied attending a 2004 meeting where illegal political financing was supposedly discussed.
He said that had he been shown any support whatsoever by the premier or by Jean-Francois Lisee, the minister in charge of Montreal, he might have stayed on.
“If only I’d had the slightest political support from the Quebec government — if they’d only just called me to ask, ‘Is it true?'” said Tremblay, letting his voice trail off.
“I did everything I could do,” said the former three-term mayor.
The political rivalry pitting Tremblay against the PQ government has deep roots.
Tremblay is an old opponent of the PQ’s, having served as a cabinet minister in the Bourassa-era Liberal government through 1994. Meanwhile, at Montreal city hall, the main opposition party is led by a former PQ minister, Louise Harel.
Last fall, senior members of the PQ wondered aloud whether Tremblay had the moral legitimacy to continue as mayor, while pressure mounted for him to resign following the incendiary testimony from Dumont.
Tremblay says he got a phone call from Marois on a Saturday morning that lasted a few minutes. The premier greeted him with one simple question: “Have you finished your reflection?”
He took that as a political hint — that it was time for him to quit. Tremblay began penning his farewell speech and he resigned some 48 hours later.
On Monday, he complained that other city officials were given the benefit of the doubt, but not him.
He appeared to float vengeance as a possible reason his name was dropped at the corruption inquiry last fall; he said he’d nixed an attempt by Dumont to run for his party in an east-end borough.
Dumont issued a statement late Monday saying he was standing by his testimony. He also called the mayor’s theory “incoherent” — given that Tremblay had offered him prestigious political roles.
Also Monday, the former mayor testified that he was completely unaware of the existence of reports that warned almost a decade ago of the damage being done by practices in the local construction industry.
Tremblay said he never saw, until just last year, an infamous 2004 report and a 2005 follow-up report which said the city’s public-works projects were operating in a closed market, with construction projects 20 to 30 per cent higher than elsewhere.
Tremblay said that, during that time, he was too consumed by another file — an international aquatics championship to be held in the city that was failing financially.
Without mentioning the report, Tremblay said that in 2005 the city’s executive committee was being pushed by bureaucrats to hire an outside firm to look at the contracting process, worth a possible $40 million to $45 million in cost savings.
But Tremblay said that at no time was the word “collusion” used before the executive committee.
A committee was also formed to look into the awarding of contracts. It was chaired by Frank Zampino — a senior city official who now faces criminal charges.
Tremblay said he was hurt to find out about the existence of the report in 2012, and demanded to know from senior city officials what else was being kept from him.
Word of collusion on city contracts apparently only reached Tremblay’s ears in 2009 — around the time stories started appearing in news reports.
Tremblay blamed the people around him who were supposed to be doing their jobs. He also said that the hierarchical structure of the city of 23,000 employees often prevented information from reaching his ears.
He said that following up on specific reports was not his responsibility.
“With the means that I had as mayor of Montreal — in my role and the mandate that I had in the scope of the law — I did everything I could,” Tremblay told the inquiry.
The response met with surprise from commission chair France Charbonneau.
“You were not in an ivory tower. You must have heard something?” asked Charbonneau.
“No, I did not hear anything,” Tremblay replied.
He admitted he was skeptical about collusion and, even on Monday, his testimony seemed to suggest disbelief that collusion was actually happening. But given the litany of testimony previously heard at the inquiry, Tremblay admitted it was difficult to dismiss.
“With all the revelations heard at the commission, it is obvious,” he said.
Tremblay said he was aware that elected officials often got hockey tickets. He said he had no issue with that, as long as there was no influence on their work.
He very rarely attended such events, naming just two — a Montreal Expos home opener where he dropped in for 20 minutes, and a Celine Dion concert. Any gifts he received, he gave to charity, he said.
Also Monday, Tremblay vehemently denied an allegation by Jacques Duchesneau, the province’s former anti-collusion czar turned provincial politician, who testified last year that he told the mayor in 2009 about people in his entourage that he should be wary of.
Tremblay challenged Duchesneau once again to name the names in public.
Tremblay has been the inquiry’s highest-ranking political casualty from testimony that has also seen engineering executives and others forced to leave their posts.
The 70-year-old declined to answer a question about whether he still had a political future. Instead he addressed the inquiry for a few minutes at the end of the day, thanking it for a chance to testify.
“I’m as shocked as you at the revelations before the commission that contractors and engineers have developed a system based on greed,” Tremblay said adding that, in his opinion, no political force could have stopped it.
“I say no mayor could unearth collusion in the way the (provincial) police have (since).”
Tremblay said the inquiry has the chance to give Montreal a fresh start. He called it an exceptional city and was adamant that it was in better shape than when he took the helm more than a decade ago.