Hundreds flood Laval city hall after trusteeship decree

Hundreds flood Laval city hall after trusteeship decree

Mayor mum on Charbonneau inquiry, smart-meter backlash

By Robert Frank

A standing room only crowd packed the city hall council chamber an hour before Laval’s city council meeting, held just hours after the Quebec government officially decreed the city in trusteeship at 2:15 p.m., June 3.

By 6:20 p.m.—20 minutes later—the chamber overflowed. Some 200 citizens who arrived afterward had to settle for watching a video projection of the proceedings in the downstairs lobby.

Mayor Alexandre Duplessis, who had asked for the city to be placed under provincial control, appeared relaxed and smiling prior to the meeting. He gladhanded supporters in the audience while, outside, dozens of unionized municipal employees staged a noisy demonstration to protest having gone 18 months without a collective agreement.

Duplessis opened the meeting with a statement that he would not respond to questions about the Charbonneau Commission.
The mayor and councillors did answer queries about mundane municipal matters during the ensuing question period. However, a contingent of citizens opposed to Hydro-Québec’s smart-meters were rebuffed, after the mayor answered the first question on the topic, indicating that he personally is not convinced that the devices pose a health hazard.

Opposition mayoral candidates Robert Bordeleau and Jean-Claude Gobé were on hand, as well as Marc Demers who, two days later, tossed his hat in the ring as the Mouvement lavallois party’s mayoral hopeful (see accompanying report).

Bordeleau and Gobé both told The Suburban in separate interviews that, given the extraordinary developments, the mayor and city councillors should resign, now that the city is under trusteeship. Bordeleau called on Quebec Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault to call a municipal election immediately, rather than wait until the scheduled election, Nov. 3.

When Bordeleau reiterated his resignation demand during the city council meeting, wild cheers erupted from the crowd in the lobby below.

“The minister—and probably the police as well—must act swiftly,” Gobé insisted.

“According to the law, the date the municipal election must be held is the first Sunday of November,” Municipal Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Caroline St. Pierre told The Suburban in an interview.

“To change that date would require legislation,” she explained.

Quebec has already set a precedent for changing election dates: Two years ago, the legislature passed a law indefinitely postponing the province’s school board elections. As a result, school commissioners will enter their seventh year of a four-year term, in November.

“I sent a letter to Gaudreault, asking why we don’t go directly to an election, instead of waiting until November,” Bordeleau told The Suburban, “rather than giving them a chance to take more of our money.”

“I never received a reply from Gaudreault,” Bordeleau complained. “He didn’t even acknowledge receiving my letter.”

Last week, Gobé told The Suburban that he received an acknowledgment of a similar missive to the Municipal Affairs Minister; 35 minutes after the newspaper placed a call to Gaudreault’s office.

Breaking with the other mayoralty hopefuls, Demers is prepared to wait until November, but believed that the mayor and city councillors should depart without delay.

In the meantime, Gaudreault has appointed Florent Gagné, the former head of the Sûreté du Québec police force to head the municipal commission that will oversee Laval’s affairs for an indefinite period. He will be joined by judges Sandra Bilodeau and Sylvie Piérard.

Duplessis vowed to cooperate with the trustees and said he will continue to do so with provincial auditors and police investigating reports of collusion.

Asked why Laval continues to pay its top two municipal mandarins, Gaetan Turbide and Jean Roberge, after allegations that they had been involved in misdeeds, the mayor’s right hand man Basile Angelopoulos explained that the city is proceeding in a circumspect fashion so as not to risk a lawsuit that could end up costing taxpayers even more.

Though it is unusual for a city the size of Laval to be placed under provincial tutelage, it is not unheard of. When Montreal found itself dire financial straits after World War I, the province placed it in trusteeship in 1918, whence it emerged three years later.

Citizens crammed Laval city council chamber, hours after the province ordered Quebec’s third largest city into trusteeship.
(Photo © Robert Frank)

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