By Geneviève April and Robert Frank
A swirl of enigma enveloped Laval last week, in the wake of a series of shocking allegations that former mayor Gilles Vaillancourt is still trying to exert influence over city hall.
First came the disclosure that Option Laval mayoral candidate Claire Le Bel had met Vaillacourt and recorded a conversation in which he allegedly appeared to offer to help finance Le Bel’s campaign.
Next followed a claim that thugs had badly beaten Lebel’s campaign director Reny Gagnon, after forcing his car to a halt on Highway 40, near the intersection of Highway 25.
However, in a dramatic turn of events, Quebec provincial police are now reportedly questioning Gagnon’s account of the attack, and might instead be considering charging the political operative with criminal mischief.
A Sûreté du Québec spokesman declined to comment to The Suburban, indicating only that the investigation remains ongoing, and Le Bel cancelled a news conference slated for later that day.
“We had to postpone our news conference on transparency because of a schedule conflict,” explained Le Bel’s spokesman Guillaume Houle, who declined The Suburban’s request for the recording of her conversation with Vaillancourt.
“The tape is not public,” he replied. “The only news outlet that received it was Radio-Canada and it will remain the only one.”
Gagnon has withdrawn from Le Bel’s election campaign pending the outcome in the inquest and all calls to his cellphone went immediately to voicemail.
Le Bel’s opponent Marc Demers (Mouvement lavallois) questioned her judgment in agreeing to meet Vaillancourt in the first place, despite the numerous organized crime charges that he currently faces.
“Clearly, given the circumstances, if anyone is seen with former mayor Vaillancourt, their election campaign is over,” he suggested.
The retired Laval senior police officer alleged that Vaillancourt targeted him with threats in Le Bel’s surreptitious recording.
“I haven’t listened to it, but police related to me the gist of the recording and confirmed that it contained threats against me,” Demers declared. “It entailed specific threats which, they said, included breaking a leg.”
Demers added that he has filed a criminal complaint with police and has taken additional personal security precautions.
“Mr. Vaillancourt prefers to break my legs than to meet with me, which sums up our relationship,” he suggested, and questioned why police never notified him of the alleged threat.
“I find it odd that I only learned in October about something that happened in August,” suggested Demers, who only received confirmation after he asked police about the reports. “The two-month lapse reflects a total lack of judgment.”
He likened the Laval election campaign to a television crime drama.
“At the very moment when Laval citizens have to choose who will represent them, we’re instead in the midst of a soap-opera like the Sopranos or the Borgias. What’s happening right now is first Godfather movies.”
Tip of the iceberg
Independent mayoral candidate Jacques Foucher told The Suburban that he was stunned by the developments.
“It’s becoming ridiculous,” he said, after learning that the account of Gagnon’s beating might have been contrived.
He added that he recently had to spurn an illegal campaign-funding overture.
“I was approached by a Laval political operative who wanted to work with me,” Foucher recalled. “When the person said to me that, in politics, you have to use fake proxies, I was flabbergasted. I replied that I would never accept that, and conveyed the information to UPAC, which referred me to Elections Quebec.”
“Putting Mayor Vaillancourt behind us is just the tip of the iceberg,” he warned, suggesting that political parties are the problem. “The iceberg is still there. I’d like to say that [corruption and collusion in Laval] is over, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
In the wake of the debacle, Foucher said that he no longer attends private meetings alone.
Another mayoral hopeful, Jean-Claude Gobé (Action Laval), told The Suburban that he is fed up with the mudslinging.
“In more than two decades in politics, I have never seen such a thing,” he marveled. “I want nothing to do with those people. We ought to be talking about the real issues that affect Laval citizens.”
Like Demers, Parti au Service du Citoyen mayoral candidate Robert Bordeleau wondered why Le Bel had agreed to meet Vaillancourt in the first place.
“The whole debacle seems to be a gimmick,” he said.
Asked whether he or any of his candidates had ever been contacted by Vaillancourt, Bordeleau replied with hearty laughter.
“The answer is no,” he said, once the mirth dissipated.
“We’re doing well on our own. It’s too early to say that we smell victory, but we’re the only party with something to offer,” he asserted.
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