Corruption is something as intrinsic to the City of Montreal as the Jazz Festival, fine cuisine, and frivolous disputes over the language of commercial signage. The end of this month is an important date in the world of municipal corruption because it is the deadline for construction companies to pay the City of Montreal back for the overcharging revealed in the massive collusion investigation conducted by the Charbonneau Commission.

Collusion is a secret agreement between two or more people with the goal of causing harm to one or more of them or to reach an objective prohibited by law.

The investigation by the Charbonneau Commission led by Justice France Charbonneau and her fellow commissioner, former Auditor General of Quebec Renaud Lachance, was started in 2011 under former premier Jean Charest. Its goal was to investigate corruption between Quebec government bodies, construction and engineering firms, and in many cases the Montreal Mafia, since 1996.

The enquiry revealed construction and engineering firms billing of the City of Montreal for phony expenses, the rigging of bids for public works projects, and the mandatory paying of kickbacks to government officials and mobsters. Among those implicated in the investigation are the engineering firm Roche and the construction firm Les Grands Travaux Soter. Former Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt was also implicated with reports indicating that entrepreneurs working on Laval projects were expected to give him a two point five percent cut of the value of each contract they got.

Gilles Vaillancourt has since stepped down as mayor after over 23 years in office and is now facing charges for conspiracy, fraud, breach of trust, and gangsterism.

The corruption allegations in Quebec and the ensuing Charbonneau Commission resulted in the adoption of the Quebec Anti-Corruption Act in 2011.

The purpose of the act is to prevent and fight corruption in contractual matters with the public sector. The law also has the goal of restoring the public’s faith in the private sector’s construction deals with the government. Among its provisions is the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commissioner, who is appointed by the Quebec government to fight corruption.

The Anti-Corruption Act is excessive. The Canadian Criminal Code already has provisions against fraud, corruption, and bribery, all of which fall under the jurisdiction of the police and Attorney General who can conduct investigations and prosecute offenders.

What the law does in addition to creating the Anti-Corruption Commissioner is specify what bodies are considered part of the public sector and therefore under the Commissioner’s jurisdiction. This includes any public body or government agency, the Université du Québec and its constituent universities, research institutes and superior schools, and all schools and school boards established by law and/or eligible for government subsidies. ^Though logic dictates that any organization funded by or under the control of the government is part of the public sector.

With agents and organizations already in place to investigate corruption and criminal activity, the Anti-Corruption Commissioner appears to be a purely symbolic office created to show the federal government that Quebec can handle its own corruption problems without the intervention of federally appointed prosecutors and judges.

The reason it is important to discuss this now is because of Law 26, adopted unanimously by the Quebec National Assembly in March of 2015 as the Charbonneau Commission drew to a close.

Law 26, known in long form as an Act to ensure mainly the recovery of amounts obtained as a result of fraud or fraudulent tactics in connection with public contracts sets up a program by which companies implicated in fraud can pay back some of the money they cheated taxpayers of.

The City of Montreal sent out 380 letters last November to the construction and engineering firms who’ve dealt with the City since 1996. The letters demanded that construction companies pay back 20% of the value of the contracts they’ve had with the City for over two decades in cases where the company was involved in collusion.

Companies and individuals have until November first 2016 to announce their intention to participate. SNC Lavalin, Dessau, and Construction Frank Catania and Associates Inc. have all publicly declared their intention to take part.

Though the law says the program is voluntary, companies that refuse to pay up can face stiff penalties, be sued by the City of Montreal, and be barred from bidding on future contracts with the City.

Former Chief Justice of the Superior Court, François Rolland, who is now Director of this Voluntary Reimbursement Program, has expressed his belief that this will be incentive enough for companies to come forward, but some believe the law lacks teeth.

Simon Seida, a Montreal lawyer with Blake, Cassels & Graydon, told the CBC on November third 2015 that a company that has received no indication that the government is looking into its practices with public contracts or that they’re going to get sued will have little inclination to participate and he is right.

No individual or company is going to pay the government money it does not feel it is legally bound to pay.

There are undoubtedly tons of construction companies in Quebec guilty of collusion but investigations, trials, and lawsuits are probably just as expensive for taxpayers as corruption itself. The Quebec government should go after the big companies involved in the bigger crimes and let the little fish go.

It is the big companies that need to be made an example of and held accountable, not the little ones who made mistakes in the hopes of competing with them. In the name of fiscal accountability, a little streamlining and cutting of government offices wouldn’t hurt either.

It all started with a diarrhea joke.

After hearing the all too familiar JFL warning telling the audience to put their phones on silent-mode and berating people who might not have seen a show in the past ten years, we were expecting Rachid Badouri to jump on the stage and immediately start pulling faces and telling stories about his father embarrassing him.

Instead, we heard his voice over the speakers as he declared to the audience that he would be replaced by his good friend Ronnie Chieng (with whom they’ve played the Ethnic Show), because he was preoccupied with diarrhea. That got quite a bit of laughs.

I saw Chieng earlier at the Ethnic Show and he was pretty funny there. Luckily, he used a completely different set – except for the bit where he tells the audience that anyone at anytime could convince him that he left his iron on. Nowadays, he apparently carries his iron around with him.

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See what I mean by pulling faces? Photo by Matthew Cope

One of his jokes got me thinking though. Apparently, he was going through his old photos from the 90s one day, and realized that he looked shit. He was surprised, “I was there in the 90s, and I didn’t think I looked shit!” His conclusion is that, we might not know it now, but right now all of us look completely shit, with our skinny jeans and whatnot.

After Chieng, however, Rachid “Rat-shit” Badouri took the stage with all his shiny glory. The Francosphere probably knows who he is, but as far as the Anglosphere is concerned, Badouri has existed only for the past six months. He warned us: “My English is not good, but do not forget, your French sucks.”

A French Canadian, born to Moroccan parents, and hailing from Laval; Badouri has a lot to say – mostly about his father. Growing up in Quebec as an Arab is difficult he says, and sadly, his father did not make his life any easier for him.

For instance, his father had a tendency to use words whose meanings he didn’t really know. So, often he would tell Badouri, “Shut up your face, you cameltoe.”

At the middle of his routine, he stopped for a second. Turns out, he forgot what his next line was supposed to be, and ran off the stage to go get his cheatsheet. He did it so candidly, however, that the audience could do nothing but to applaud.

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A happy Rachid Badouri in his natural environment. Photo by Matthew Cope.

Badouri’s strong suit is his face. Not quite on the same level as Jim Carrey, but boy can he twist and contort his face and eyes. His demented chicken impression is pretty remarkable.

His last joke was about the customs form that you need to fill as you enter Canada. Unlike other countries, Canada asks you whether or not you have ever been to a farm recently. As a former flight attendant, Badouri has always wondered what would happen to someone who said “yes” to that question. So one day, he decides to say yes. The officer at the customs looks at him and says “Come with me.” They take him to an abandoned runway, with a tree growing in the middle.

And then the officer says: “You see that tractor over there? It’s been there for 20 years, could you please move it?”

After that joke, and after the entire performance, Badouri got a standing ovation; and you could tell that he was so darn happy with it. It was his first time doing an hour-long set in English, he fills up every single seat at L’Astral, and gets a standing ovation. Honestly, he did deserve it.

Rachid Badouri was part of the Ethnic Show and did his hour-long English set on July 23 at L’Astral. While he has no more shows at Just for Laughs, he’s going to be on tour with his French set in the upcoming months. Check out his website for more information.

Photos are from Badouri’s performance at The Ethnic Show, courtesy of Matthew Cope and Just for Laughs.

Never a dull moment in Toronto’s City Hall these days, is there? By now everyone knows that Rob Ford’s career is quite possibly the worst train wreck in Canadian political history. What is perhaps less understood by the general public are the ties between the Harper gang running the country and the Ford brothers in Hog town (somehow the old nickname just seems that much more fitting right now).

Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty nearly broke down in tears last week at a press conference when a journalist asked him whether he had any advice for this old friend of the family. He said simply that he hoped the man got help ( I think we’re past the point of AA meetings here, Jimbo).

Of course, Tories are all heart when it comes to their own. Whereas when we’re talking about the unfortunate souls addicted to heroin who count on safe injection sites all over the country, they have no patience and will again try and thwart any attempt to provide this type of harm reduction during this session of Parliament.

Other members of the Harper government were less sympathetic towards Ford, but none of them were willing to go as far as to call for the Mayor to turn in his official necklace and do the city, country and office he’s repeatedly disgraced with his various drunken shenanigans, a massive favour by quitting. This is a far cry from Harper’s infamous 2011 BBQ footage in which he praised Ford for cleaning up the previous administration’s “mess” created by Mayor David Miller, loosely affiliated with the NDP (Ah yes. Remember when Toronto’s biggest problem was a garbage strike?) .

The reasons for the measured criticisms are clear: “Ford Nation” suburbanites, many of whom inexplicably still back the Mayor, are largely found in the same 905 area code ridings that are critical to any Conservative victory in the next Federal Election. The Fords were staunch Harper allies in the last election and the Mayor’s shady brother Doug Ford has mused openly about running for the Tories in the upcoming election (presumably on some sort of tough on drug crime platform).

Obvious political and personal hypocrisy notwithstanding, there is also the fact that “Fordzilla”(as one wag on twitter dubbed him) is currently a lame duck Mayor whose personal problems are preventing him from governing the most populous and still most economically important city in Canada. This is as much a crisis in leadership and administration as it is a tragicomedy media circus playing out before an international audience.

Although the solution to the current crisis in Toronto is being debated, the answer may lie in the resolution reached by the Quebec government during the Vaillancourt scandal in which the gangster (this is the technical term used in his indictment) Mayor of Laval was removed from office. In that instance, the city was effectively run by a panel of three technocrats appointed by the provincial government until municipal elections were held, on November 3rd. This might not be the most democratic option for the Wynn government in Ontario but it remains a viable path forward.

It’s time for Federal Tories (especially those representing the Greater Toronto Area) to set aside their talking points and their election strategy book, grow some spine and join the rest of their fellow elected representatives of all stripes in denouncing the Mayor and calling for his immediate resignation.

* Top image by designwallah via Flickr, used under Creative Commons