News  The affair of the water meters

The first shock of this election season was long in coming. On September 23, Mayor Gérald Tremblay cancelled a contract between the City and the private consortium GÉNIeau to install water meters and other expensive gadgets in buildings across the city. The contract’s value ballooned from its initial estimate of $32 million to approximately $355 million, making it the largest contract in Montreal history.

Allegations and consternation over the contract started last April, when it was revealed that Tremblay’s former “right-hand man,” Frank Zampino, had taken a lovely Caribbean vacation on the yacht of construction magnate Tony Accurso during the bid-tendering process. By the time these revealtions surfaced, Zampino was already out of politics and comfortably positioned as vice-president and chief financial officer of Dessau Inc., a partner in the consortium, which included businesses owned by Accurso, that received the water-meter contract.

Zampino resigned from his corporate positions, and following an announcement that some of Accurso’s businesses were being investigated for tax fraud, the water meter contract was “put on ice.”

Montreal’s auditor-general, Jacques Bergeron, was put on the case and announced on September 21 that the water meter contract should be cancelled, and that the City needs to overhaul the way it makes deals, saying that the process was “too fast, too big, too expensive.”

Tremblay announced that the deals were kaput – along with the City’s top two civil servants. But the mayor may have breathed a sigh of relief, as Bergeron blamed no one except a general climate of incompetence for the mishaps. Tremblay owed the situation to “administrative shortcomings” and “procedural oversights,” and played it up as an opportunity to improve.