Monday, 1 October 2007

Scandal in Outremont: Bottles of Scotch or Molotov Cocktails?

Troubling news in our little bailiwick: Outremont borough officials have admited paying more than $6,000 out of the public coffers between January and June for booze. Some of it was served at a couple of receptions—including one for writers in April—but most of it appears to have been drunk by the borough council and friends in a small anteroom off the council chambers. The political aide to the borough mayor resigned, the borough’s books are being examined by outside auditors, and the news this morning is that the borough manager has just resigned.

For more than 125 years Outremont (population about 23,000) was a separate municipality, but when the provincial government mandated the merger of all the municipalities on the island of Montreal (there were 26 of them plus Montreal, by far the largest with a population of more than a million) it disappeared into the larger city in 2002. Not much changed after the merger: the city council was replaced by a small borough council, but services continued to be generally good. Satisfaction seemed to be so great, in fact, that when the provincial government bowed to public pressure and allowed citizens to ask for de-mergers, very few in Outremont did.

I’ve crossed swords with the council many times. For 14 years I was part of Les amis de la bibliothèque, who fought to get a new library building. This meant regular attendance at council meetings—over that time I probably missed a half dozen meetings, and the various councilors got tired of me quoting Olivier Wendell Holmes, Jr.: “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” In the end, we succeeded, though. The new library was opened in 1998, and it gives me immense pleasure to go there on a Sunday afternoon and see it full of people.

And now I am annoyed that the council appears to have been so stupid as to allow petty graft. We need government—we probably need a lot more government--and this incident only gives ammunition to those who don’t understand its importance. Those bottles of scotch and other high-price drinkables paid for by the taxpayers could become Molotov cocktails in the fight over how we govern ourselves.

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