Commentary, Opinion

Dominique Ollivier is a symptom of Québec’s long-standing corruption problem 

When Montrealers think about where they want their tax dollars to go, they consider meaningful development projects that will tangibly make their lives better. They hope for improved public transit or access to more affordable housing—not a $347 oyster dinner for their city councillor. 

Once celebrated as the first Black person to lead Montreal’s executive committee, the Montreal Public Consultation Office (OCPM), city councillor Dominique Ollivier has resigned as the committee’s president following revelations from the Journal de Montréal that she spent thousands of dollars on extravagant trips abroad and lavish meals, including the elaborate oyster platter that she simply shrugged off as “not her best idea.” While she maintained her role as city councillor, the scandal led to a slew of racist and xenophobic attacks against the Haitian-born Ollivier, with Montreal residents telling her to go back to where she came from. While her actions are reprehensible and certainly deserve condemnation, Ollivier’s identity as a Black woman unfortunately makes her an easy target for Montrealers’ rage. It renders her susceptible to convenient scapegoating, bearing the brunt of the blame for a much more extensive issue. Dominique Ollivier is not the problem—endemic corruption within Montreal’s municipal government is.

With over 30 years of experience in her field, it is impossible for Ollivier to claim unfamiliarity with the rules of her profession when she chose to spend Montrealers’ tax dollars on flights and seafood. While it is valid to question her integrity and values as a public servant, the reality is that corruption goes far beyond one dishonest OCPM employee. Corruption has permeated Quebec’s governments for decades. Rather, what Montrealers should be questioning is why Ollivier believed that she could escape the consequences of her actions. 

This question has a simple answer. The astonishing lack of accountability within Montreal’s government has allowed others to pave the way for Ollivier by avoiding repercussions for similar behaviours. Ollivier may have simply been following in her predecessors’ and coworkers’ footsteps. However, Montrealers have been vicious and racist in their attacks and seem to think that her Blackness should make it easier to hold her accountable, while her white counterparts walk away untouched. 

A $350 oyster platter pales in comparison to the almost $2000 of municipal funding that Valérie Plante, the mayor of Montreal, once spent on a dinner in Vienna—a dinner which apparently necessitated eight bottles of wine. After the Journal de Montréal’s investigation revealed this questionable expense, Plante committed to reimbursing the alcohol expenses, but it was too late. The message she sent to Montrealers remains: Taxpayer dollars have long been recklessly mishandled in the city. In 2017, former interim mayor of Montreal, Michael Applebaum, faced 14 charges of corruption, conspiracy, and breach of trust. These include arranging fraudulent fundraising campaigns to elicit donations and accepting over $55,000 in bribes for bureaucratic favours. Ironically, Applebaum also vowed to clean up corruption in the city. In another shocking case, leaks unveiled internal corruption within Québec’s specialized anti-corruption unit itself. Dozens of other examples like these make Ollivier’s breach of trust seem almost minor, illustrating that this is not just an individual moral failing but a city-wide crisis. 

Montreal’s government has a problem of enablement, both internally and within the provincial government. In 2022, the Angus Reid Institute reported that over 70 per cent of Quebecers believe that bribery, money laundering, and theft of public funds are problems in Quebec, earning Quebec the highest overall corruption rating of any Canadian province.

When diving into Quebec’s long history of corruption and lack of transparency, one thing is sure: Dominique Ollivier is not the villain here—or at least, not the sole villain. While accountability is critical, Quebec’s corruption problem will not be solved by pinning the blame on one individual, without acknowledging the much deeper, systemic issue of corruption that the province has wrestled with for years. If Montreal residents truly want to see an end to corruption, it’s time they redirect their attention from individuals toward the larger system at play. 

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