Friday, June 15, 2012

Water and Power and Convenient Memory Loss


Jules Crepeau right with family.

Two Solitudes indeed. 

If you believe the testimony at the 1927 slander trial Alderman Mercure vs. The Montreal Star, the big industrialists of the era (Lorne Webster etc) had no idea what was going on the Quebec Legislature (with respect to Montreal Water and Power) and the Montreal City Executive Committee had no idea what was going on with the stock market with respect to the same company.

The trial was over things written in the Star about the hasty 1927 Montreal Water and Power purchase, where the City bought a private company so that it could have control of its entire water works system. 

Senator LorneWebster, through a family trust out of New York, purchased options for the company just before the City decided, after 14 years, to purchase it for themselves. (An amendment to the Statutes of Quebec of some sort had to go through in the Legislature for this to happen.)Webster made 4,000, 000 dollars on the flip. Or to put it another way, the taxpayers of the City lost 4,000.000. 

My grandfather would eventually be turned out of his job over this purchase. By Camillien Houde Scapegoated for it, even though he did not attend the  infamously shady session of the City Council in question.

My play Milk and Water takes place in September 1927. It features a discussion between my grandfather, Jules Crepeau Director of City Services and my husband's grandfather, Thomas Wells, about family life, politics and the basic human right to clean fresh wholesome drinking water.

But as I read the testimony from the Montreal Gazette archives, I have to wonder if my grandfather was involved, as a kind of go-between. 

Anyway, even during the trial everyone goes out of their way NOT to slander Webster. He had every right to speculate, if anyone was negligent it was the Executive Committee. So they all said, over and over. And in the end Mr. Webster won another million.

The article reports that court (the judge?) said that  the Montreal Water and Power Company was born to be purchased by the city, for a profit, that's why it existed in the first place. 

"The City was bound to buy it," the Court broke in. "Everybody knows it, and anyone who does not know that has not read the Statutes for the last 20 years. The Company was born for that purpose and achieved its end."

(Hmm. This was just when Webster was being asked if he discussed the possible city purchase with the old owner, Hanson.  Webster says, No, not directly. But yes in every conversation something was said about the city buying it.)

Why this important purchase took so long and why it happened at just the WRONG moment for some and the RIGHT moment for others, is another story - and unless I can channel my grandfather, no one will ever know.

Here's a funny bit: Apparently, Mr. Webster was at the Quebec Legislature when the amendment paving the way for the Montreal Water and Power Purchase was passed, but he was there regarding the Church Union debate. (Church Union is a big issue with regard to my other story Threshold Girl.)

He swears he had no discussion with anyone there about the other thing.

At another time during the trial, someone suggests is it odd JAA Brodeur, President of the Executive Committee, didn't know of the sale of the Montreal Water and Power Company from the Hanson Brothers to Webster's Family Trust, since "There is very little he doesn't know. " 

I think that goes for my grandfather. Indeed, he is likely the one who kept Brodeur up to date.