The barrel finds a new bottom | The Canadian Encyclopedia


The barrel finds a new bottom

Michael Applebaum’s arrest marks the latest chapter in the city’s seemingly never-ending saga of corruption

This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on July 8, 2013

Michael Applebaum’s appointment as interim mayor of Montreal was an act of desperation. The long-time city councillor took the job in the wake of Gérald Tremblay’s resignation last November, thanks largely to his ability to lobby, cajole, manoeuvre and otherwise convince his municipal colleagues that he was the man to lead the country’s second-largest city out of a morass of institutional corruption. “I will be your eyes and ears, and will do everything to regain what was stolen from you, to protect you from anyone who tries to take advantage of you.” Things could only get better, Applebaum seemed to suggest, if only because they couldn’t get worse.

Applebaum’s arrest this week at his residence in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood by members of UPAC, Quebec’s anti-corruption task force, is a stark repudiation of that sentiment. It’s the stuff of satire and overwrought police dramas: The interim mayor appointed because the last one had a studied ignorance of the corruption rampant within his administration was himself hauled out of bed and arrested on corruption charges. And while the charges have yet to be proven, it seems Montreal—and Quebec in general—keeps finding a new bottom to the barrel.

At a function honouring Montreal’s Filipino community less than 48 hours before his arrest, Applebaum didn’t seem his usual ebullient self. “Something was off,” a source told Maclean’s of the politician’s performance. “The man who manoeuvred himself into the mayor’s chair wasn’t on display.” Already, UPAC had twice visited his offices. The first time, nearly three months to the day after he was sworn in, police locked down Montreal’s City Hall. In May, UPAC targeted the borough offices of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, where Applebaum served as mayor for 10 years, as well as the offices of Union Montreal, Applebaum’s party until it was dissolved last November.

Each time, Applebaum issued a similar statement. “I am not under investigation, I am here to collaborate,” he said after the February raid. These statements were invariably accompanied by Applebaum’s coy smile—as though the interim mayor saw the grim humour in having to say such things on a regular basis. Even as he sat in the back of the police car on his way to being charged with 14 counts of fraud, breach of trust, conspiracy and municipal corruption—reportedly tied to a zoning change done for developer and alleged mafioso Tony Magi in 2004— Applebaum was wearing that little smile.

After facing numerous calls to step down, Applebaum announced his resignation the day after he was charged. “I have every intention of continuing to fight,” he said during a quick statement at City Hall, adding, “I’ve never taken a penny from anybody.” Yet another interim mayor will serve until the province-wide municipal elections in November—if he or she lasts that long, of course. Former executive committee member Alan DeSousa told La Presse the city shouldn’t be put into trusteeship because “Montreal is a solid institution where there are still honest and credible people at municipal council who can do the work.”

This was an apparent dig at Laval, Quebec’s third-largest city, which the Quebec government placed under the authority of trustees after testimony of how every member of the city’s municipal council (save for one) was allegedly laundering money for mayor Gilles Vaillancourt. Mayors come and go, some via election, others in the back of police cars. Yet in the scheme of things, Applebaum’s arrest is just the window dressing of Montreal’s shabby storefront.

Maclean's July 8, 2013