Isn’t it time to wise up to the wise guys?

Paul Wells on the (non)response of MPs to an epidemic of corruption, kickbacks and death threats
Paul Wells
Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay announces his resignation during a news conference in Montreal, Quebec, November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi (CANADA - Tags: PROFILE POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Christinne Muschi/Reuters

Perhaps clarification is in order. The most important career change in Montreal this week was not the resignation of Gérald Tremblay, who from 2001 until Monday sat in the office usually reserved for the city’s mayor. By his own admission, Tremblay was a kind of lucky tourist, mostly unaware of the rampant corruption in Montreal and entirely unable to control it. “I asked the public servants and the councillors why I had not been informed about this,” he said, and, “I fought—often alone,” and, “I would have expected a more attentive and more urgent hearing from the government.”

Off he goes. Sad story. Wave bye-bye. But let us not be distracted. The most important career change in Montreal this week happened when Joe Di Maulo’s bullet-riddled body smacked the driveway outside his home in the genteel suburb of Blainville and, a short time after, assumed the temperature of the tarmac. I nominate Di Maulo, post mortem, as Montreal’s real mayor, because there seems to have been very little in that city which happened without his knowledge and approval.

Ever since somebody hid outside Nicolo “Zio Cola” Rizzuto’s home in 2010 and sent the 86-year-old Mob boss to his maker with a shot from a sniper rifle, Di Maulo had become part of a group struggling to control organized crime activity in Montreal, which is, you know, a lot of activity. And bad things kept happening to the rest of the group. Here I am indebted to ace Montreal Gazette crime reporter Paul Cherry for the details: Salvatore “Sal the Ironworker” Montagna was murdered last autumn. Antonio “Tony Suzuki” Pietrantonio was shot soon after, but survived. Di Maulo, a lifer whose name appears in Mob histories dating back to the ’60s, managed to stay neutral among factions. “If you had a problem, you went to see Joe,” La Presse reporter Daniel Renaud was told by one of his sources.

I don’t know anyone in Montreal who went to see Gérald if he had a problem. Two Quebec government cabinet ministers said Tremblay was a wise man to resign. But Joe Di Maulo was a wise guy for 40 years, so I’m going to have to give it to him on points.

I’m afraid I have no information for you about how all this news affected the emotions of the House of Commons.

In fact, we’ve had no formal update on the collective emotional state of Parliament’s lower house since 2010. On Sept. 29 of that year, after this magazine ran a cover story calling Quebec the most corrupt province in Canada, the lower house of Parliament voted unanimously, more or less, to express “its profound sadness at the prejudice displayed and the stereotypes employed by Maclean’s magazine to denigrate the Quebec nation, its history and its institutions.”

That was the week we ran a cover photo of Bonhomme Carnaval carrying a satchel stuffed with cash next to the headline “The most corrupt province in Canada.” The articles inside detailed precisely the sort of goings-on that led directly to Tremblay’s comically belated resignation.

You’ll note your MPs’ selective sense of woe. It’s not the epidemic of corruption, kickbacks, contract-fixing, influence-peddling and death threats that brought a cloud into their sunny day. It was our insouciance in pointing all of this out. Joe Di Maolo was an institution in the Quebec nation, indisputably part of its history. What’s the proper way to describe his work and legacy? Which prejudices and stereotypes should be avoided?

And what business was this of parliamentarians in the first place? No offence, guys and ladies, but you are lousy editors. When Nic Rizzuto took a bullet, not a peep. When Sal the Ironworker and Tony Suzuki went down hard, the House of Commons had nothing to say. Testimony at the Charbonneau commission reveals that mobsters’ favoured method for disposing of wads of cash from their construction-industry interlocutors was to stuff them down their socks. Thousands of dollars. Stacks of bills. But when Montreal’s finer menswear establishments started selling hip waders in the hosiery section, not a peep from your local member of Parliament.

It’d be nice to hear a hint of remorse from MPs who used your time and our name to strike a pose two years ago, but I’m not holding my breath for an apology. The time they spent rapping our knuckles was time they could have spent improving the country. Tom Mulcair bragged later about how he was the one who came up with the “profoundly saddened” comment. But as soon as we put his mug on the cover instead of Bonhomme’s, he was buying Maclean’s by the armful. I’m glad we cheered him up, at least.

It is at last possible to hope the epidemic of corruption in Quebec construction and politics is nearing an end. Good work by reporters, police and clean politicians is driving out bad work by too many others. I wonder whether the disarray in the Mafia is a sign that the cozy protection racket is falling apart. But too many politicians spent too much time looking the other way, which made them part of the protection racket.

In the right light, a lot of MPs look like Gérald Tremblay.