Canadian News

They always come back to haunt you

Graham Fraser September 25 1978
Canadian News

They always come back to haunt you

Graham Fraser September 25 1978

They always come back to haunt you

Montreal

When Mayor Jean Drapeau rose from the dinner table in the Old Montreal seafood restaurant Chez Delmo last week, he looked as if he hadn’t a care in the world. He had finished a relaxed tête-à-tête with his old friend, Paris architect Roger Taillibert, and as he walked toward the door he paused to shake hands with other diners. Yet two years after the last Olympic athlete had left the still-unfinished stadium that Drapeau had dreamed of and Taillibert had designed, the two men and their appallingly high-priced, already-crumbling monument were being splashed

across the front pages. Only two months before municipal elections, and only a short walk from the restaurant where the two men dined, hearings had begun in the austere black tower of the Palais de Justice on the cancerous expense of the Olympic site, now calculated at $1.2 billion (Drapeau’s original estimate $62.2 million).

From its opening sessions, the Commission of Inquiry into the Costs of the 21st Olympiad in Montreal, headed by Superior Court Justice Albert Malouf, heard a bizarre account of secrecy, deception, hair-raising administrative incompetence and financial recklessness. Former City of Montreal engineer Claude Phaneuf, who had caught the mayor’s attention when he succeeded in getting Jarry Park ready for the Expos’

opening major-league season, revealed that he was given a hush-hush assignment in 1971 to begin work on the planning of the Olympic site. Equally secretly, a full year before his appointment was announced, Taillibert flew across the continent with Phaneuf looking at baseball stadiums, pronouncing them to be “cheap.” That was not a fate Montreal was to suffer.

During cross-examination of witnesses, it became clear that cost control was viewed as the pettiest of details. Taillibert was installed in a suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel at a cost of $36,000 a year, contracts were given to engineers without tender, with no checking of the firms’ competence to do the work, and decorative features were added to the plans at will. Commission counsel Jacques Dagenais pointedly asked why, when costs were already double the estimates, $20 million were spent on fountains on top of the parking garage. “Well,” replied Claude Phaneuf, who had the grace to look a little embarrassed, “it was felt that in the great free spaces of concrete, a little life was needed.” So, Taillibert designed fountains. Again and again, two names recurred. Who had ordered secrecy? “Le patron”—the boss—Drapeau. Why were no management experts hired? Because the mayor wanted the city to retain control. Who gave orders? “Two people gave orders: M. Drapeau and M. Taillibert.”

Drapeau has always explained away the costs of construction by blaming inflation. He even told a parliamentary commission after the Olympics that there was no deficit—just a gap between costs and revenues. But now that the Malouf inquiry is pushing deeper into his budgetary and administrative

chaos, the mayor is refusing all comment. As the weeks pass, people are beginning to think the unthinkable: that the mayor may face an uphill fight in November. Maverick Liberal MP Serge Joyal is publicly testing the waters for a run at the mayoralty. But already he has let it be known that he will not resign from the House of Commons until after the municipal elections. No one is counting the wily mayor out yet. At week’s end, he hinted he would ask the commission to suspend its hearings until after the Nov. 12 elections if they become a “factor” in the campaign.

Graham Fraser