The 2009 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen – Michener Awards Ceremony, May 27, 2010
The Gazette published a series of articles that revealed irregularities in how the city awarded a $355.8-million contract to install water meters in institutional and commercial buildings. The largest contract in the city’s history was fraught by a lack of supervision of contracts at city hall, and ethically questionable relations between former city officials and companies seeking deals. After Montreal’s auditor-general confirmed the paper’s findings, the mayor cancelled the deal and two top city officials were fired.
Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, colleagues – good evening
This speech – which I promise will be short – will take me three times as long to deliver as it took Montreal city council to award the largest contract in the city’s history.
In fact, that’s what motivated The Gazette to delve deeper into its investigation of Montreal’s $355-million water-management contract.
It took 53 seconds for Montreal city council to unanimously approve the 25-year contract in late 2007. Not a single question was asked and, consequently, barely a headline was written. The deal only came on the public agenda in the spring of 2009 after it was revealed that during the bidding process the chairman of the city executive committee had vacationed on the yacht of a businessman whose firm was a partner in the winning consortium. But it was a tip, suggesting the city was getting a raw deal, that launched The Gazette’s examination of the project.
The first surprise was that the contract was never presented to city council.
The elected officials approved it without reading it. The Gazette filed an access-to-information request to get a copy of the contract and the call for tenders. Examination of the contract revealed that the city would never own the brain of the system it would buy. Moreover, the initial call for tenders was modified numerous times and over hundreds of pages. An analysis of those pages revealed that key elements of the specifications were changed against the interests of the city days before the deadline for bids.
In response to the Gazette findings, Mayor Gérald Tremblay announced he would cancel the contract. Up until then, he had vigorously defended the deal, despite calling in the city’s auditor general to examine how it was awarded and despite a provincial police investigation of the deal launched at the request of the municipal opposition. The auditor general’s report confirmed The Gazette’s findings, and the contract was cancelled. Two top city officials were fired. Mayor Tremblay, who was re-elected in November after a campaign dominated by the issue of corruption, opened up the powerful executive committee to opposition councillors for the first time in the body’s 70-year history. And in January, he announced he would get a committee of council to evaluate all contracts.
I’m honoured to be here with the other nominees because their work sets the standards for other journalists. I’m also grateful to my editors for their support and for giving me the time to research these articles. And as I mentioned earlier, the investigation began with a tip. So this is the ideal moment to pay tribute to the courage of people like my source. They serve society, often at their own risk and peril, by providing information that’s in the public interest so that journalists can do their job.
Michener Awards Ceremony
May 27, 2010