Laying to rest Vaillancourt’s ghost…

In ex-mayor’s fading shadow, Laval takes back $60 million in skimmed sums

Laval mayor Stéphane Boyer announces that the city has reached the $60 milllion mark in funds taken back legally from overpaid contractors.

Like a ghost who puts in appearances from time to time during the day, Gilles Vaillancourt is occasionally spotted enjoying a quick meal in the fast-food court at Carrefour Laval.

But even though current Laval mayor Stéphane Boyer admits he never actually ever met the former mayor, Vaillancourt’s lingering presence is proving to be something not easily exorcised.

Gilles Vaillancourt’s name was invoked repeatedly during a splashy press conference that officials with the City of Laval held at the interim city hall on Saint-Martin Blvd. late last month.

The purpose: to close the book on the legacy Vaillancourt left after he resigned from office in 2012, after nearly 40 years as mayor and as a city councillor before then.

Parti PRO got kickbacks

In the aftermath of evidence laid out by the Charbonneau Commission into public contracts corruption, the City of Laval filed a string of lawsuits against outside contractors over the past 10 years, to ultimately recover $60 million in funds which had been systematically overpaid.

Left, Simon Tremblay, the City of Laval’s director of legal services, led the city’s legal efforts to recoup the $60 million. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Laval News)

It was a scheme that saw a percentage kicked back to Vaillancourt’s Parti PRO des Lavallois. The city undertook 18 civil cases, garnering 13 judgments in its favour. Cases still ongoing, if successful, would bring in an additional $20 million.

After serving part of a six-year jail sentence, Vaillancourt agreed to forfeit to the the city more than $7 million in savings from Swiss and Bermuda bank accounts, as well as his luxurious condo on Île Paton in the Rivière des Prairies off Chomedey, and the $36,000 annual retirement pension he would have received from the city.

As Boyer, 36, recounted to journalists, he was a university student living at home in Vimont with his parents in 2010, when former National Assembly member Vincent Auclair reported he had once been discreetly approached by Vaillancourt who offered an envelope of cash to be used in one of Auclair’s election campaigns.

A change of culture

It cost the relatively small sum of $6 – $7 million in total for legal fees to recover the $60 million in stolen taxpayers’ dollars, noted Mayor Stéphane Boyer. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Laval News)

Boyer insisted that the culture of corruption that reigned in Laval over the 23 years Vaillancourt was mayor has been broken. “Laval really started over from zero in 2013,” he told journalists, alluding to that year’s election when a virtually completely new slate of councillors came onto city council.

“It took time and we had to rebuild the administration, revise our way of doing things, our procedures in our by-laws,” he added. “But I think there was this renewal politically as well as administratively, which allowed us to say that the [old] system was done away with because all the players were changed.”

During a question-and-answer exchange, The Laval News pointed out that there remains a significant cluster of Laval residents who still speak admiringly of Vaillancourt, citing his accomplishments (the orange Metro line extension, the Cosmodôme, extensive residential, commercial and industrial development) while he was in office.

Vaillancourt/Trump comparison

“There’s people in Laval who admire Trump: what can I do about it?” Boyer replied somewhat sardonically, while noting that it cost the relatively small sum of $6 – $7 million in total for legal fees to recover the $60 million in stolen taxpayers’ dollars.

Gilles Vaillancourt
Former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt.

As for money that continues to come in (there are five more cases against former contractors pending), the City of Laval created a special fund in 2017 (the Fonds Place-du-Souvenir), which provides targeted financial support for youths from Laval up to age 17, who are regarded as being “at-risk.”

Some of the clawed-back funds also go towards purchasing green and forested areas of Laval for permanent conservation, as well as for making cash payments for goods and services in order to avoid adding to the City of Laval’s debts.

Opposition reaction

One of the City of Laval’s two opposition parties, Action Laval, isn’t altogether happy with how the city is spending the recuperated money. They believe it would have been better spent on tax relief.

“This year we got an increase of 4.8 per cent in our municipal taxes, and that’s unacceptable,” said Action Laval city councillor for Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Paolo Galati. “Especially with the fact that we just recuperated all this money, it could have been a way to balance the budget.”