An exclusive interview with the man behind the mayor’s desk
In an exclusive interview with the Laval News following the recent announcement he won’t seek a third mandate in the November municipal elections, Mayor Marc Demers says his decision to enter politics prior to the 2013 election was based largely on conclusions he reached decades earlier while working as a police detective investigating suspected corruption in former mayor Gilles Vaillancourt’s administration.
Before he entered politics
Before being chosen by the Mouvement lavallois as their mayoralty candidate for the 2013 election, Demers had a lengthy career with the Laval Police Department as an officer and an investigator. In the years leading up to the 2013 election, he’d also attended some Laval city council meetings where he had the opportunity to express his views to then-mayor Vaillancourt during the public question periods.
Demers said that before accepting the Mouvement lavallois’s offer, he was initially concerned that his past political affiliation with the Parti Québécois (he had been slated to run in the riding of Laval-des-Rapides, but gave it up for Léo Bureau-Blouin) might damage support for the ML from voters in Laval’s predominantly English-speaking areas.
Expected to be challenged
He said he also was aware – and warned ML organizers – that some political rivals might try to challenge his eligibility to run for a municipal elected office in Laval, because the length of his residency (although dating back to as early as 1971) wasn’t continuous and was divided at times between Laval and another residence in the Laurentians.
Regarding Vaillancourt, Demers said that as early as 1977, when Gilles Vaillancourt was part of Mayor Lucien Paiement’s administration, as well as on another occasion in 1981, he was given the task of looking into questionable activities at Laval city hall, and that the resulting reports he wrote were forwarded to the Sûreté du Québec.
Demers said that even though he executed a search warrant at Vaillancourt’s household furnishings business, and seized documents were analyzed by a forensic accounting expert, the Vaillancourt file was transferred from the Laval Police Department’s fraud investigation division to the major crimes division. In the end, the file was taken away from Demers altogether, he said.
“The thing is: they didn’t want me to complete my investigation on M. Vaillancourt,” said Demers, referring to the LPD’s administration at the time. When asked whether he feels in retrospect that political interference may have been the reason for the decision, Demers said simply, “They took away my authority on the investigation.”
City was under curatorship
With that, Demers said that he decided in 2013 to do something about the situation, guided by what he had learned, but which had been suppressed, he said. Facing mounting corruption allegations following a series of law enforcement raids at his home as well as police searches of his bank safety deposit boxes, Vaillancourt resigned in early November 2012. When Demers was elected in November 2013, he inherited a municipal administration that had been placed under curatorship by the provincial government.
‘They didn’t want me to complete my investigation on M. Vaillancourt,’ said Demers, referring to the LPD’s administration at the time
While Demers acknowledges that some observers have criticized him for being so determined to see that all the money siphoned from Laval’s coffers was returned to the city, he noted that to date the City of Laval has managed to recover around $50 million, which has been used for various good purposes, including upgrading municipal infrastructures and creating a special fund to help youths.
“So, yes I feel that my mission has been accomplished,” he said, pointing out that the money recuperation operation cost around $6 million in legal fees altogether, but that more money is expected.
Demers believes he is also leaving the City of Laval with a greater sense of transparency in its administration than ever, including full public access over the internet to webcasts of city council meetings, and a freedom of information policy that grants residents access to all except the most confidential of documents.
In addition, Demers said the city councils he led during his two terms worked arduously to bring Laval’s basic infrastructures up to standards after years of neglect, but without compromising the municipality’s finances.
Keeping corruption at bay
In many areas outside Laval, there is a perception of the city (because of its apparent acceptance of corruption for more than two decades) as still being susceptible to fraud and potentially open to future instances. Demers agreed that it will be challenging for those succeeding him to keep the city from slipping back into its old ways.
“I think it will be difficult,” he said. “My thirty years experience in the police tell me that criminals always seek out the places that are weakest. But we now have a general management team that is no longer complacent and will no longer get involved in schemes, as some director-generals and persons in authority did in the past did in Laval.”
On the 2018 council uprising
Regarding the tumultuous departure from his administration in 2018 of executive-committee vice-president and ML founder David De Cotis, followed by a short-lived revolt by a group of ML councillors (most of whom eventually returned to the mayor’s caucus), Demers lay much of the blame with De Cotis and St-Vincent-de-Paul councillor Paolo Galati.
“There were differences of opinion with David De Cotis and Paolo Galati, and I had put them on notice clearly,” he said, while noting that the uprising happened just as he was learning that he needed medical treatment for prostate cancer. “This attempted putsch was very difficult for me because medically I was vulnerable,” he said.