Corruption, drugs, profanity: Mayors pull lid off 'boring' Canada

Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who was allegedly caught on video smoking crack cocaine, has been joined by Montreal's interim mayor, charged with corruption, fraud, and extortion. 

Christinne Muschi/Reuters
Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum walks out of Surete du Quebec headquarters after his arrest in Montreal, June 17. Applebaum was arrested on charges of corruption, becoming the city's second mayor in a year to be publicly disgraced.

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Canada, North America’s friendly and reasonable northern neighbor is often seen as the United States' more sensible counterpart. But now there’s reason to cast doubt on those stereotypes. In the past month, local politicians in Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s two largest cities, have been embroiled in public scandals.

Last month, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was caught on film allegedly smoking crack, among other things. And just yesterday, Montreal’s interim Mayor Michael Applebaum was arrested on charges of corruption, becoming the city’s second mayor in a year to be publicly disgraced.

Mr. Ford, who has been in office since 2010, was allegedly caught on video last month smoking crack cocaine out of a glass pipe. The video, which had been shopped around to various news outlets including Gawker and the Toronto Star, also appeared to show Ford making racist and homophobic comments. Canadian television network CTV later reported that the Toronto police had been investigating claims about the video for weeks before the story broke.

The scandal has since exploded to include investigations into Ford’s brother, city councilor Doug Ford, over the sale of hashish, and the murder of an alleged drug dealer, according to The Week. 

This is not Ford’s first controversy either. He has been expelled from sports games for drunkenness, condemned for making racist remarks about Asian-Canadians, and been caught on tape discussing how to “score” OxyContin – to name just a few.

But his behavior and the use of racist and homophobic epithets are not the only reasons that Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, called Ford the “worst mayor in the modern history of cities,” in an article for the Globe and Mail. As The Christian Science Monitor reported, many say Ford’s gravest offense is exacerbating the urban-suburban divide in Toronto. 

During his mayoral campaign, Ford railed against taxes and “the gravy train” of public spending, a popular sentiment among suburbanites whose time spent downtown was often limited to commuting by car to work and cheering at hockey or baseball games.

And Ford has remained markedly anti-urban in office, which impacts daily life for millions. Despite leading a cosmopolitan city that imagines itself in a European mold, Toronto lags in walkability and quality of life for urbanites.

In Montreal, interim Mayor Michael Applebaum was arrested yesterday on 14 charges of corruption, fraud, and mafia extortion in connection to real estate handlings made before he took office, according to Agence-France Presse.

Quebec’s Unite Permanente Anticorruption (UPAC), or permanent anticorruption unit, arrested Mr. Applebaum at his home early Monday morning and spent 10 hours interrogating him, reports CTV. The charges date back to between 2006 and 2011, when Applebaum was the mayor of the Cote St. Luc/Notre Dame de Grace borough of Montreal. Former city councilor Saulie Zajdel and former director of permits Jean-Yves Bisson have also been arrested. 

Applebaum, Montreal’s first English-speaking mayor in 100 years, assumed the office a little more than six months ago, after his predecessor, Gerard Tremblay, resigned following allegations of illegal fundraising. Applebaum took on the post on a temporary basis, promising to end corruption.

Ironically, as the Globe and Mail reports, his arrest comes on the heels of a poll indicating that Montrealers are satisfied with city hall’s anti-corruption efforts.

This is only one episode in a sordid history of corruption that has plagued Montreal for years, as Huffington Post Canada has pointed out: 

The ongoing Charbonneau Commission investigating Montreal's construction industry is showing all of Canada just how rotten the city is. It has uncovered a litany of offenses among a dozen or so construction companies who conspired for years and gamed the municipal contracts system so that they could get paid more for doing less work. But much, much worse than that, what has been revealed is that politicians from every major party in the city… are alleged to have been in on the scheme and to have lined their pockets with kickbacks and illegal donations from the construction companies.

Officials from all over Quebec, including the province’s Premier Pauline Marois, have called on Applebaum to resign, according to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The disgraced mayor is supposed to make a public appearance sometime today.

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