Amid spending controversy, City of Montreal cancels Christmas parties, Plante reimburses wine expenses
Posted November 14, 2023 3:55 pm.
Last Updated November 15, 2023 1:32 pm.
The city of Montreal has cancelled its Christmas parties and Mayor Valérie Plante and members of her cabinet have reimbursed wine expenses made on a trip to Austria, after allegations of controversial spending of public money at the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) – uncovered by Le Journal de Montréal and TVA Nouvelles’ investigative team.
The former number two at City Hall, Dominique Ollivier, stepped down as president of the city’s executive committee Monday, two days before the city of Montreal’s new budget Wednesday. She was criticized for allegedly over spending when she was president of the OCPM, including $350 on an oyster dinner.
“I’m totally disgusted, I’m a taxpayer,” said Montrealer Adelia Bensoussan. “My taxpayer dollars are going to pay for wine, for oyster, for meals that is totally superfluous. I need my money to support my family and if they would like to have wine and oyster with their meals, they could choose to do so on their own tab, not on mine.”
“When you are doing business of any kind, or in politics, there are people you have to jolly along and people you have to interact with and there are certain valid expenses,” said Montrealer Sandy Shea. “But it gets out of hand, this sounds like it was beyond reason.”
“Unfortunately, we the people pay a big, big price,” said Andrei Ioda.
In a statement to CityNews, the mayor’s office said: “The population never has to pay for alcohol expenses during [trips] and that is why the bill was reimbursed. Since the beginning, the administration has made a significant effort to tighten spending on international trips, which has fallen by half compared to the previous administration. This was an exceptional error made in good faith which has been corrected.”
In a statement to CityNews, Gonzalo Nunez, public relations officer with the City of Montreal said: “Montreal recently adopted a plan to tighten municipal spending for the 2023 fiscal year. This plan calls for the implementation of numerous measures to preserve a balanced budget. As part of these budgetary restrictions, the general management has decided to withdraw sums from function expenses, reception and hospitality expenses, room rentals, meeting expenses and any other related costs. With regard to the planning of end-of-year parties, for those who had planned to organize them, the general management specifies that these events will have to be organized at no cost to the city.”
“All the para-municipal organizations have to have a moment of reckoning and a moment to verify what it is that they’re doing and they should be accountable to the executive committee just like the city of Montreal employees are,” said political analyst and former city councillor, Karim Boulos.
“I think we have to be careful not to make it such that it’s all or nothing. I think the mayor should be entitled to spend certain amounts of money,” Boulos added. “For Dominique Ollivier, it’s an unfortunate situation, but when we apply for a job, the past is a pretty good predictor of future behaviour. So I think the public in general is saying, ‘if you did this once, what is your authority? What is your legitimacy in controlling the spending of a $6 billion plus budget?'”
Ollivier said she has been put in a situation where she is no longer in a position to fully complete her mandate mainly because of violent messages of racism and misogyny, but will remain a city councillor in Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie.
The Plante administration has ordered Montreal’s auditor general to investigate the practices of the OCPM under Ollivier’s presidency and the current president Isabelle Beaulieu.
“They’re working for me, they’re not on their own dime,” said Bensoussan. “It’s unacceptable because you set an example and you want people to follow your example.”
The mayor is now expected to present the budget Wednesday.
“We were warned of increases in taxes,” said Boulos.
“All administrations really have to put their constituents, put their citizens first, and understand the hardships that we ourselves are going through,” said Bensoussan. “We’re not having wine and we’re not having wine, and we’re not having oysters, and we’re not having big Christmas parties, so I think they have to think about that.”