Montreal’s new mayor: one anglo to rule them all

Montreal’s got a new mayor, folks. And not only is he the first Jewish mayor, but he’s also an anglo. And you thought politics in Quebec couldn’t get any more contentious!

QUEBEC, INK — It’s a Jew! It’s an anglo! It’s an Applebaum!

First Jewish mayor, first anglo mayor in a century, first independent mayor since Jean Drapeau created the city’s first political party in 1951. That’s a lot of firsts for Michael Applebaum, elected interim mayor over Union Montreal’s Richard Deschamps today in a 31-29 council vote — with three spoiled ballots.

The former city executive committee chairman says he won’t run for the real mayor’s job in the full election next November, so it will be a short-lived record, a footnote like Canada’s first female PM.

You have to ask yourself why, however, a city with such a strong anglophone presence hasn’t had one in the mayor’s chair since 1912. Okay, the 29 years Jean Drapeau spent in office is a partial explanation. And 18 years, on and off, of Camillien Houde played a role.

But it was rather astounding to hear, in this day and age, people argue that Applebaum shouldn’t be mayor because he speaks French with an accent! Like this tweet after today’s vote, written by self-described journalist S.E. Fortin, complaining about a mayor who speaks “Créole” French. Or a series of tweets from Benoît Dutrizac, a journalist famous for his, umm, hate-baiting.

But what really matters about today’s vote has nothing to do with language. Through his candidacy, Applebaum has launched a lot of little bombs into the hallowed halls of City Hall. By advocating democratic reforms and a major re-do of a very flawed city budget, Applebaum forced Deschamps to follow suit, something Union Montreal was refusing to contemplate just last week.

With everyone on council now supposedly on the same page, agreeing that deep and permanent reform is required, you can expect to see the parties and councillors clamouring to establish themselves as the “real” party of reform. And as long as that reform happens before the next election, it might actually see the light of day.

The other little bombs Applebaum has planted are within the party he deserted just last week. To get 31 votes, some Union Montreal councillors may have voted to support Applebaum over the party’s own choice, Deschamps. Now that they’ve lost the bid for interim mayor, it may be time to declare the party over.

Applebaum probably has more detractors than fans these days, but even his critics have to give him credit for being willing to take steps that few other people in power would have. He’s blasted a little daylight into City Hall and earned his own little footnote in history.  ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear at least once a week in this space. You can follow him on Twitter or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

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