Toula Drimonis: Culture of privilege undermines public trust

Faith in public institutions — fragile at the best of times — is being harmed by the goings-on at Montreal city hall and in Quebec City.

Article content

If Quebecers are feeling a little jaded these days, I can’t blame them. It’s been a rough few months, what with flip-flopping politicians and public servants appearing increasingly disconnected from the people they serve. After dangling up to $7 million to lure an NHL team owned by billionaires to play two meaningless pre-season games in Quebec City, the Coalition Avenir Québec government continues to play hardball with teachers and public health care workers during contract negotiations.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Deputy premier Geneviève Guilbault admitted the “timing” of the hockey announcement is bad. Teachers have walked out with no strike pay, parents are scrambling to come up with contingency plans, and our health care system looks like it’s held together by duct tape. More than 70 Quebec schools in vulnerable areas are on a waiting list for a breakfast program and food banks are struggling to meet demand. But, hey, enjoy the L.A. Kings, plebs! The “timing” is most definitely bad.

Article content

That the money for those games was obtained from a regional fund intended to support business projects and non-profit organizations (including a day camp and curling club) makes the decision even more outrageous.

In response to the criticism, Premier François Legault said “it’s important to invest in recreation.” I agree. The recreational needs of average Quebecers, however, are best served by funding local sports clubs and facilities for those who may not be able to afford them otherwise.

Meanwhile, the province’s ethics commissioner has concluded MNAs voting themselves 30-per-cent salary increases created the appearance of a conflict of interest. You think?

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

On the municipal front, the Journal de Montréal dropped a bombshell with its investigation into spending at the city’s public consultation office, targeting Dominique Ollivier, the OCPM’s former executive chair, and Isabelle Beaulieu, its now-fired president. The revelations — mere weeks before the city unveiled its 2024 budget, which contained the biggest tax hike in 13 years — were hard to swallow to say the least.

It was impossible not to notice that Ollivier became the primary target of public vitriol over her spending, even though she did nothing illegal and I’d venture to guess her expenses were, infuriatingly, no more extravagant than those of most public figures and elected officials over the years.

But the optics emanating from city hall and Quebec City are undeniably bad. Whether it’s spending $350 on an oyster dinner in Paris, $500 on wine in Austria (while on a trip to study housing!), $900 for wireless Apple headphones or cluelessly defending handing over millions to rich hockey teams — these are prime examples of a tone-deaf culture of privilege and long-standing complacency that destroys faith in our system and in the people we entrust to make decisions in our best interests.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Ollivier resigned from her position, Mayor Valérie Plante reimbursed her wine expenses, Beaulieu was axed and Legault is paying the price in the polls where  support for the CAQ has fallen to second place behind the Parti Québécois. If there’s any justice, OCPM secretary-general Guy Grenier will also soon be shown the door.

Faith in public institutions is a fragile thing. When voters see reckless mismanagement of public funds, cronyism, lack of accountability and officials enjoying lavish dinners on our dime while some are surviving on Kraft Dinner, it erodes public trust.

This is especially true now, when global anxiety is sky high and a post-pandemic world feels a little worse for wear.

People want to see their governments tangibly working for them. Instead, we’re getting strong “give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt” energy from the CAQ government and questionable ethics from a municipal office funded by taxpayer money and whose credibility relies on its transparency and integrity.

We deserve better.

Toula Drimonis is a Montreal journalist and the author of We, the Others: Allophones, Immigrants, and Belonging in Canada. She can be reached on X  @toulastake

Related Stories

Advertisement 5

Article content

Article content