Coderre is mayor but all is not lost: The glass half full look at the 2013 Montreal municipal elections

Denis Coderre

Denis Coderre is the Mayor of Montreal. Let’s all let that sink in, the man who hangs with Club Charbonneau regulars, thinks it’s cool to lock up mask-wearing protestors and once helped make a coup happen in Haiti is now our mayor.

To put it mildly, it’s not the outcome I wanted, not in the slightest. That said, all is not bad, in fact some things could end up being quite good.

We lived through Gerald Tremblay and Michael Applebaum, so we can live through Coderre. They’re really not all that different.

What is different, and this is huge, is that Coderre does not have a majority on the city council. He only has 27 of the 33 seats required for one. Projet Montreal, with 20 seats, is now a very strong opposition, much stronger than they were after the last election.

They are also stronger at the borough level, retaining their control of the Plateau and Rosemont-La Petite Patrie and picking up all the city and borough council seats in Sud Ouest except for that of borough mayor. Projet’s Jason Prince very narrowly lost to incumbent and candidate for Marcel Côté’s Coalition Montréal Benoit Dorais.

projet montreal sud ouest bergeron
Projet Montreal candidates, now city and borough councillors in Sud Ouest (l-r) Craig Sauvé, Sophie Thiébaut, Anne-Marie Sigouin and Alain Vaillancourt with outgoing Projet leader Richard Bergeron in the centre

Meanwhile in Côte-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Projet’s seat count went from one to two, which also is huge. As NDG councilor Peter McQueen found out last time, one councilor can propose motions, but it takes a seconder for them to be heard and debated and in a council controlled by an opposing party that doesn’t listen to outside voices, that can mean nothing gets through. Now, Magda Popeanu, who beat uber incumbent Helen Fotopulos in the Côte-des-Neiges district and McQueen can support each other.

Projet leader Richard Bergeron won his seat in Saint Jacques in the Ville Marie borough. It was a bold move for him selecting a colistière (or running mate, whose seat the party leader takes if they aren’t elected mayor but their designated co-candidate is elected to council) outside of the safety of the Plateau.

This move paid off, ensuring that he can sit on the council as leader of the opposition. Yesterday, though, Bergeron decided that three elections are enough and he would only keep his seat, and the leadership of Projet, for the next 18-24 months then resign from politics for good.

This inevitably will mean a leadership race, the first in the party’s history. Whomever that leader will be will have to figure out who on the council the — Projet councillors can count on for support, if Bergeron hasn’t already set those particular wheels in motion by the time they take over.

Marcel Côté, whose colistière finished third to Popeanu and Fotopulos, doesn’t have a seat on council himself, but six of his teammates do. Some of them are ex-Union as are many of Coderre’s councillors, so them siding with Projet on key issues is doubtful at best, though you never know.

Mélanie Joly got four city councillors elected: Steve Shanahan in Peter McGill downtown, Lorraine Pagé in the Sault-au-Récollet district of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Justine McIntyre in Pierrefonds-Roxboro’s Bois-de-Liesse district and Normand Marinacci was elected borough mayor if L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where her party also picked up all four borough council seats. Borough councilors don’t sit on city council, despite potentially bringing some Vrai Changement to Île-Bizard.

Even though Joly finished second for mayor, just a few points ahead of Bergeron and not that far from Coderre, she failed to get a seat on council herself. She ran her colistière in NDG against McQueen, a popular incumbent.

If, instead, she had placed her running mate in Peter McGill, where she has personal political experience (in Shaughnessy Village), she’d have a seat on council today. It’s that kind of decision that led me to believe those (including FTB’s Taylor Noakes) who were and are saying that she had no intention of staying in the municipal arena if she wasn’t elected mayor and would try instead federally with the Liberals (she has worked with Trudeau before).

Melanie Joly
Mélanie Joly (photo by Valeria Bismar)

Now, though, it looks like she wants to stick around, after all. She has pledged to run for the first seat on council that opens up and extended an olive branch to Bergeron a day before he said he was quitting.

Olive branches and parties working together are how good things can actually come out of the current city administration. True, as mayor and through mechanisms like the executive committee, Coderre wields considerable power. It’s also true that Côté councilors will probably vote with their former Union Montreal or establishment colleagues, but they are not obliged to.

The Joly councilors, Joly herself and all the independents and borough-specific candidates are wildcards. If Projet could bring enough of those wildcards into their well-stacked deck and create enough groundswell in the districts represented by Côté candidates, then they may be able to bring about positive change whether Coderre wants it or not.

I’m not saying this will be enough to, say, get rid of P6, but it might. It can’t hurt to try with that or with other issues important to Montrealers like transport or the awarding of city contracts.

I’m hopeful. Mainly because this will require a grassroots approach to politics, rather than a top-down one. And that is the type of political approach where Projet Montreal excels.

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