It’s time to flush the municipal party system

With the withdrawal of Louise Harel and Marcel Côté’s candidacy confirmation, this fall’s mayoral elections are getting interesting. But to really clean up city hall, the parties that have long dominated it have got to go.

City hall. Photo via Flickr

Laval politics may have blackmailing prostitutes, cross-dressers and bundles of plastic money floating in condo toilets, but Montreal’s political scene just got interesting with the withdrawal of Vision Montreal leader Louise Harel from the Montreal mayoralty race!

Okay, maybe that last sentence didn’t deserve an exclamation point. But it’s true that the race for mayor just got interesting. Recognizing that she’s as popular as beer-battered pork during Ramadan for the city’s anglophone population (four per cent support, vs. 54 per cent among francophones), Harel and her party have opted to join a coalition that will run economist Marcel Côté — who confirmed his candidacy today — as its candidate for mayor.

It’s an unusual alliance. Côté is a strong federalist, while Harel is a former Parti Québécois minister, which is what killed her chances with anglophones. (That, and she was the minister who forced municipal fusions.) The coalition’s candidates will be a hodge-podge mix of Vision flag-bearers, former Union Montreal and independent city councillors and, hopefully, some new blood.

The sovereignty question has long lurked in the background of Montreal municipal politics, but it has very little to do with running city hall. Former mayor Jean Doré was often painted a separatist blue, despite the strength of his party in western Montreal, while Gérald Tremblay was a dyed-in-the-pure-laine Liberal. Neither ruled the city any differently because of their opinions on federalism because they knew — I repeat myself because there are a lot of deaf people among older anglos — it doesn’t matter!

Sewers don’t care about sovereignty, and snow clearing is not easier under federalism. So let’s move on to more relevant issues.

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Côté’s arrival is interesting for two reasons.

First, the chances of former Liberal MP Denis Coderre just plummeted from “sure thing” to “sure looks gloomy.”

Secondly, the decision to form an alliance rather than yet-another-party-whose-name-I- can’t-remember is an important break from Quebec’s insane municipal party regime. Hopefully, it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back of a system that is at the heart of the widespread municipal corruption that we’ve been hearing about publicly for months (and privately for years).

As for Côté himself, he has carved out a clear path for his politics on the right of the spectrum and is the star business candidate that the Montreal Board of Trade has been hoping for. In fact, Côté, co-wrote a report for the board just three years ago on what needs to change in Montreal administration and taxation. He is also a former advisor to Progressive Conservative PM Brian Mulroney and Liberal premier Robert Bourassa. So the 70-year-old isn’t well known to the woman-in-the-street but the boys in the backroom have been rubbing shoulders with him for decades.

That leaves the centre for Coderre, though the absence of any kind of program from “Kid Kodak” makes it unclear if even he know where he stands.

And the left, of course, belongs to Projet Montréal and their mayoral candidate, Richard Bergeron. The party earned a lot of support from anglophones in the Plateau, NDG  and the South-West in the last election. If any significant part of that came from the anyone-but-Harel crowd, the arrival of the fluently bilingual Côté could be bad news for Projet.

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We all have this hope that some hero is going to ride into Montreal city hall on a white Bixi and put an end to all the theft that has been going on. But it will take more than a broom to clean up our beautiful city. It will require a political class that is prepared to sacrifice its own interests to serve ours.

To begin, political parties are nothing more than opportunities to collude and are expensive beasts to feed. Most North American cities don’t have them, and we don’t need them.

People should be voting for local councillors on their own merits, not because of the mayoral coattails they rode in on. There’s a reason why there are separate ballots for councillors and mayor. Local politicians look after our streets, our parks, our safety, our community. Mayors look at the larger picture and lead the larger community.

The best way to return to those basics is to flush the party system down the crapper. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter, or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

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