Liquor stores, expensive yachts and council secrets make headlines in Canadian cities this week

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Sailboat
Mayor Gerard Tremblay's right-hand man went on a private vacation aboard a yacht named Touch with one of Quebec's biggest construction barons

It's been another busy week in Canada's big cities. In Toronto, one councillor is in the hot seat after he allegedly shared 'in-camera' material with someone outside City Hall. Councillor Michael Walker told the Globe and Mail that he had to share the information with an outside source in order to get some independent advice.

The staff report was apparently dropped on Walker's desk late on a Friday, while the issue was scheduled to be debated on a Monday. Having dealt with this very situation of 'late reports' myself, I can attest that most civic politicians' blood boils when it happens, as they often feel they haven't had enough time to review the sensitive material.

Walker's excuse didn't make an ounce of difference to Toronto City Council who voted 19-6 in favour of asking the integrity commissioner to review the incident. Councillor Shelley Carroll told the Globe and Mail:

It is absolutely written in legislation that with response to real estate and property exchanges, those things are confidential.

You are hardly going to arrive at a consensus if you are out there using the Lone Ranger approach.

Meanwhile in Montreal, a whiff of an "ethics scandal" has given a much needed boost to opposition leader Benoit Labonte's campaign for Mayor.

Here is the opening paragraph of an article written in the National Post this week:

Since being elected Mayor of Montreal in 2001, Gerald Tremblay has acquired a reputation as an affable politician, quick to roll up his sleeves when problems arise. The only dirt that seemed to trouble his administration was a litter problem he vowed to clean up. But now, with an election seven months away, Mr. Tremblay's administration is caught in a deepening controversy over ethics, and it all began with a luxury yacht called the Touch.

The scandal relates to Frank Zampino, a man many people refer to as Mayor Tremblay's "right-hand man." Prior to his retirement, Zampino was the chair of the powerful executive committee. He apparently vacationed on a private yacht with a man by the name of Tony Accurso, of the biggest construction barons in Quebec. According to the Post:

The first cruise on the Touch came as one of Mr. Accurso's companies, Simard-Beaudry Construction Inc., was in the running for what would be the most lucrative contract ever awarded by the city. The second came a few months after Simard-Beaudry, teamed in a consortium with the engineering firm Dessau Inc., had been awarded the $355-million contract to install water meters in commercial and industrial properties. Then last January, Mr. Zampino began his new job as senior vice-president and chief financial officer at Dessau.

You can expect to hear a lot more about this story in the months leading up to the fall election.

Meanwhile, in Edmonton, they're trying to clean up their act - literally. Everyone was pulling together to participate in the Amazing Clean Up Race. This is all part of the Capital City Clean Up (CCCU) campaign.

Here's what Mayor Stephen Mandel had to say:

Our residents take such pride in our City. Every year more and more Edmontonians volunteer or partner with Capital City Clean Up to keep Edmonton free of litter and graffiti. These individuals, organizations and businesses help CCCU lead the way to a more beautiful Edmonton.

The City of Edmonton was also struggling to balance it's budget along with keeping the city clean this week. It is reported that Council is trying to cut at least $35 million dollars out of their budget in order to balance the books.

Council is looking at a combination of increased revenue and decreased services. These include increases to park and ride fees and cutting community centre hours and closing pools. In response, Mayor Mandel told CTV:

The municipal government mandates we have a balanced budget, we can't spend money without having some come in, so that's what we had to do this year.

I was in Winnipeg last week and couldn't believe how much standing water there was in the open fields as I took off from the international airport to head home. Everyone on the plane was stunned to see all that standing water.

Mayor Sam Katz credited the Red River Floodway for reducing the risk to thousands of Winnipegers. A relieved Mayor told the Free Press:

Depending on where you live, you wouldn't even know there is a flood. You can thank the floodway for that.

Finally, what would a weekly round up be without a story from Burnaby. This week the civic leadership, with the exception of one councillor, decided to restrict the size of private liquor stores. In British Columbia, the sale of liquor is conducted at both private and public facilities. Some of the union operated public facilities are massive in comparison to their private sector competitors.

Former NDP MLA, now councillor Pietro Calendino was leading the charge to permit private owners a bit more elbow room in order to develop consumer-friendly stores. However, Mayor Corrigan and his council shot down the proposal to increase the footprint from a maximum of 1500 square feet to 2500 square feet.

In the past, the BC Government and Employees union have led the charge to get various city councils to agree to put limits on the size of private liquor stores. They feared if private liquor stores expanded, it might put the jobs of their members in jeopardy. BCGEU's most most successful efforts took place when COPE had the majority on Council in Vancouver between 2002-2005.

According to a BCGEU publication:

Over 100 municipal councils and school boards supported our resolution to stop the privatization of liquor sales and distribution.

The only real power any city or municipality has to limit the expansion of private liquor stores is through zoning and development guidelines. Councils can vote to ensure the footprint of private liquor stores are kept small to ensure they have a harder time competing with government run liquor stores.

Here's an excerpt from the Burnaby Now you might find enlightening:

But Mayor Derek Corrigan noted that the policy was simply a guideline for zoning approval. It's not the same force as a bylaw," he said. "Generally I think the idea is to stop them from becoming full liquor stores down the road.

So that folks is a summary of the week that was in Canadian cities. Tune back here next Sunday where we do it all over again.

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