Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum was arrested by Quebec’s
anti-corruption task force yesterday over fraud allegations,
adding to controversies rocking political circles in Toronto and
Ottawa that have taken the shine off Canada’s image as a
The scandals risk putting a dent in Canada’s reputation as
a largely corrupt-free country. Canada hasn’t fallen below the
top 10 of Transparency International’s corruption perception
index since 2006 and rose to as high as sixth in 2010.
“We do not have as pristine a reputation internationally
as we once did,” said Richard Leblanc, a law professor at York
University in Toronto. “There seems to be a culture of
entitlement and lack of controls and lack of oversight, which
needs to be addressed.”
In Toronto, the mayor of Canada’s biggest city, Rob Ford,
is surrounded by allegations he was caught on camera taking
cocaine. In Ottawa, a controversy over Senate expenses is the
first scandal to touch Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s inner
circle, costing him his chief of staff last month.
Applebaum faces 14 criminal charges linked to two real
estate transactions that involved “tens of thousands of
dollars” in illegal payments between 2006 and 2011, Robert
Lafreniere, head of Quebec’s anti-corruption unit, told
reporters in Montreal yesterday. Applebaum was arrested at his
home, police said in a statement posted on the provincial
Applebaum told reporters he wouldn’t comment.
While “not any one of these stories would have been a big
deal,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at
the University of Toronto, “all of a sudden, when you get three
piled on in a couple of weeks, people start saying, ‘Hey what’s
going on in Canada?’”
Applebaum, the city’s first anglophone mayor in a century,
became interim city head in November after his predecessor,
Gerald Tremblay, quit amid reports that his party received
illegal contributions. Tremblay denied the allegations.
Harper’s government is facing its lowest popularity ratings
in four years as it struggles with the fallout from the
departure of his chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and two of his
senators over questions about expenses.
Wright left after the disclosure he paid about C$90,000
($88,339) to Senator Mike Duffy to settle ineligible expenses.
Lucy Shorey, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police, said June 13 in an e-mailed statement the agency is
investigating to determine whether it needs to lay charges in
Adding to Harper’s woes, Saulie Zajdel, a former electoral
candidate for his Conservatives in Montreal was also arrested
yesterday as part of the same investigation as Applebaum.
Heritage Minister James Moore, who Zajdel worked for in
2011 and 2012 as a special assistant, told lawmakers that if
laws were broken he should be held accountable. A call to
Zajdel’s home in Montreal was not immediately returned.
It was calls for more accountability in government that
helped bring Harper’s Conservative Party into power in 2006.
Harper’s main competition, the former Liberal government, at the
time was mired in a scandal in which fundraisers accepted
kickbacks in exchange for government advertising contracts.
Harper’s first piece of legislation after taking power was
the country’s Federal Accountability Act that ended political
donations by companies, required public servants to record all
contacts with lobbyists and eliminated contingency fees in the
In Quebec, the charges against the Montreal mayor come
against a backdrop of investigations into corruption in the
construction industry. A government-appointed commission
investigating the granting of contracts is being televised
The public scandals may simply reflect newly applied
transparency rules and growing demand for accountability in
Canada, said Kathy Brock, a professor at Queen’s University in
“Some things that might have floated underneath the radar
are now becoming much more apparent,” Brock, a political
scientist, said in a telephone interview. “As things open up
and as more rules get applied, it means you will have much more
things come to light.”
Gilles Vaillancourt, former mayor of Laval, Quebec’s third-largest city, was among 37 people arrested last month and
charged with crimes including fraud and gangsterism. Laval is
now under the trusteeship of the province.
SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. (SNC), Canada’s biggest construction and
engineering company, had one of its subsidiaries and more than
100 affiliates debarred for 10 years by the World Bank following
“misconduct” in relation to a bridge project in Bangladesh,
according to a World Bank statement dated April 17. The
misconduct “involved a conspiracy to pay bribes and
misrepresentations” when bidding for World Bank-financed
contracts, in violation of the lender’s procurement guidelines,
according to the statement.
The scandal enveloping Toronto’s mayor may be the most
spectacular. The Toronto Star reported May 16 two of its
reporters viewed a mobile-phone video which allegedly showed
Ford smoking drugs from a pipe. Ford has said he does not use
crack cocaine and is not an addict.
Bloomberg News hasn’t seen the video and can’t verify its
The Globe and Mail Newspaper alleged separately in May 25
story that Rob’s brother Doug Ford, a city councilor, was a
hashish dealer in the 1980s. Doug denied the allegations to
various media outlets and also during a two-hour radio show that
Doug and Ford regularly host, when Rob called the media
“Is there a common theme? Politics in Canada is more
interesting,” the University of Toronto’s Wiseman said.
To contact the reporters on this story:
Theophilos Argitis in Ottawa at
Frederic Tomesco in Montreal at
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
David Scanlan at