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November 14, 2012

Laval, Quebec's longtime 'Monarch' resigns in scandal

A mayor's 23-year reign running the city next to Montreal has ended under the cloud of a corruption scandal, which has darkened a political record once so dominant that even his critics called him, “The Monarch.”

Gilles Vaillancourt, the Laval political dynamo who had since 1989 steamrollered the competition in municipal elections, resigned Nov. 9.

Ongoing scandals have now claimed the careers of the mayors of Quebec's first- and third-largest municipalities, following the departure of Montreal's Gerald Tremblay last week. That has left one-quarter of Quebecers temporarily without a mayor.

Vaillancourt lamented the climate of suspicion in Quebec and continued to dismiss the corruption allegations against him. But he said he had few options, given the harm to his reputation.

“Whatever I do... the damage is done,” Vaillancourt said, reading from a statement.

He touted his record in overseeing the development of a once-sleepy farming community into a bustling and fast-growing municipality. He said he had always worked for Laval residents: “I always acted in their interests... My objective was always to build a strong community.”

Vaillancourt, 72, has been on sick leave since Oct. 24.

Meanwhile, Quebec's anti-corruption unit has closed in on Laval in recent weeks, raiding numerous engineering firms and businesses in addition to Vaillancourt's own home, condo, offices and his bank safety-deposit boxes.

Vaillancourt's name has also been mentioned in ongoing testimony before Quebec's Charbonneau inquiry into corruption.

Former construction boss Lino Zambito testified that Vaillancourt received a kickback on contracts handed out in Laval. Vaillancourt has denied those allegations, as he has denied past allegations that he offered bribes to people involved in provincial politics.

Laval police had a police car stationed outside Vaillancourt's home early today.

A police spokesman said it was purely to maintain order after a reporter had gone onto the property the previous day in an effort to speak to the mayor.

Const. Frank Di Genova said it wasn't Vaillancourt that made the request.

Allegations that the Montreal mayor turned a blind eye to illicit financing of his own municipal party prompted Tremblay to resign last Monday as mayor there. Tremblay also denied the allegations, but said he was quitting for the good of the city.

Unlike Vaillancourt, the former Montreal mayor has never been accused of personally pocketing money. Montreal still faces a leadership crisis, following the mayor's departure.

Reports say the city's No. 2 could be quitting out of frustration with his colleagues — not only because he was passed over as a candidate for interim mayor, but also because he opposes a plan to push ahead with Tremblay's 3.3 per cent hike on property taxes.

The city must choose a temporary replacement for Tremblay by Nov. 16.

In Montreal and in Laval, there can be no snap municipal election under provincial law unless a mayor quits more than a year before the next scheduled vote. The next round of municipal elections will be held in Quebec next November.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2012

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