Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Primer on Montréal's 2013 Municipal Election

In a month's time (November 3rd) Canada's second largest city, along with most of the rest of the province of Québec's various municipalities, will be holding local elections. Yay!

Montréal, with a population of about 1.65-million residents in the city proper but over 3-million in its immediate metropolitan area, is an extremely complex place to govern that is very unlike any place in English-speaking Canada, with the city broken up into smaller arrondissements or boroughs that elect their own mayors and councils, who also in turn act as councillors on the larger City Council. So essentially a voter in Montréal would vote for their borough mayors and councillors, and get their City Councillors as well.

... though that isn't the case in every borough, as some have borough councillors that don't sit on City Council, while some don't have anyone except their borough mayor sit on Council. But we're just going to focus on the sixty-five Mayoralty and City Council races for now, so that isn't too important.

The position of Mayor is elected by a plurality of voters in a First-Past-The-Post system on a city-wide ballot. The mayor is also appointed as the borough mayor of Ville-Marie, which is to say Montréal's downtown core and where City Hall is located, ostensibly to ensure the Mayor has a seat on Council.

The division of powers is generally what you would expect in such a system, with the larger Council over city-wide concerns such as public safety (Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, or SPVM), environment, intergovernmental affairs, urban planning, and most aspects of the city budget. The boroughs deal with local community concerns, ranging from fire prevention to community maintenance to building permits. I'm not entirely sure of what the relationship is like between borough and Council, but I should note that several boroughs did vote to leave the post-2002 City of Montréal after a forced merger, most of them on the West Island.

Politics of Montréal

Montréal's politics are complex, though amusingly simple as well (you'll see). The first thing to remember is that Montréal's municipal politics are based around a party system, which is very different from how things work in, say, Toronto, where there are no parties and every member is an independent. The closest analogue would be Vancouver's city parties, though on a much larger scale and more competitive.

As this is municipal politics, any ideological labels is hard to pin down, but that doesn't necessarily matter. The parties mostly exist as personal vehicles for the candidacies of mayors, and often die out after their leader has either retired or lost an election. Montréal's longest serving party was Jean Drapeau's centre-right Parti Civique, which governed from 1950 to 1986 when Drapeau retired and was overtaken by the left-wing Rassemblement des citoyens de Montréal (RCM) of Jean Doré, which was then overtaken in 1994 by Pierre Bourque's Vision Montréal, which was overtaken in 2001 by Gérald Tremblay's UCIM/UM. Thus the ideology of the party is mostly based around the ideology of the mayor that leads it, and frankly there aren't too many distinctions you can draw sometimes.

Affiliation is based on who you support or oppose, kinda like everywhere else, except with party names. Simple yet complex, like most of Québec politics.

That doesn't mean there are not dividing issues, though they aren't really different from anywhere else. Elections can be fought over issues such as decentralization/centralization, the environment, the approach of council to its citizens, and the state of infrastructure, taxation, and so on, and past mayors have fallen. Pierre Bourque was kicked out of office in 2001 on his support for the municipal mergers on the Island of Montréal, rallying the suburbs against him and putting Tremblay in his stead.

However the overriding issue in 2009 as well as this election is been corruption. In late 2012,  former Mayor Gérald Tremblay's name came up in the Charbonneau Commission's look into corruption in Québec, with accusations that he and his party (Union Montréal) were in league with the notorious Montréal mafia in kickback schemes and illegal financing practices. Tremblay promptly resigned in November 2012, replaced in the interim by fellow UM member Michael Applebaum shortly after, the city's first anglophone mayor in a century. Unfortunately for him, Applebaum himself was soon arrested by the province's anti-corruption unit on 14 charges from his time as borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges--Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, and replaced by the current mayor, Laurent Blanchard.

The extent of the rot is still currently been examined by the Commission, and you can bet some more names will fall soon. In the interim, however, the associations with Tremblay and Applebaum have caused the break-up of their party, the Union Montréal, which formerly dominated the Council and most boroughs. Many of those members became independents, though others joined up with new parties or the opposition, or simply resigned. Here's a fun graphic to explain the mess.

The 2009 election brought in 38 Union Montréal members to 16 for Vision Montréal and 10 for Projet Montréal, the other major parties on council; the make-up at the end of the session 20 Independents, 17 members of Équipe Denis Coderre, 11 Vision Montréal, 10 Projet Montréal, 4 single-member parties and three vacancies, though there have been some big affiliation changes as many of those councillors played musical parties. I'll run through the big ones competing below.

Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal (Team Denis Coderre for Montréal):
EDC is the personal vehicle of former Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who resigned from that position to run for mayor. The party is mostly made up of former Union Montréal members, but also includes some Vision Montréal and Projet Montréal councillors that switched parties after the creation of the group on Council. Despite it essentially being a party made to support Coderre's candidacy, it is contesting the elections as a unified party like any other, with candidates in almost every borough, as well as incumbents. While it won't have the same strength as Union Montréal, one can consider it something of a continuation of Tremblay's party, which itself was something of a continuation of the old Rassemblement des citoyens de Montréal (RCM) that had elected Jean Doré to office, though not as left-wing. Because of this EDC has taken some flak, not helped by Coderre's assertions about getting a party made up of 50% new members to municipal politics, a target he has yet to hit.

As EDC is mostly about one man, pinning it ideologically is a bit tough. Given the ties to the federal and provincial Liberals though, you can expect a lot of their influence. Most of the specifics of the EDC platform deals with tackling corruption, but the rest are somewhat vague promises and taglines about "social development," "intelligent mobility," and so on. Its not for lack of ideas, as there are plenty, but I would say not all are greatly fleshed out. On the issue of corruption, Coderre's big policy is bringing in the position of "Inspector General," which would complement the city's Auditor General and Controller General by having the power to investigate allegations of corruption and also demand action be taken.

Vision Montréal/Coalition Montréal Marcel Côté:
VM was created in 1994 to promote the mayoralty candidacy of Pierre Bourque versus then-incumbent Jean Doré, being a more centrist alternative to the reign of RCM at the time. The party's record during Bourque's term was fairly positive, including the introduction of balanced budgets, progress on local environmental programs, and restoring Old Montréal and the Lachine Canal. However, Bourque was kicked out after supporting the merger of twenty-seven formerly independent towns into a larger city (Une île, une ville), drawing the ire of formerly separate towns, especially those dominated by anglophones on the West Island. Bourque ran once more in 2005, then left the party to his former deputy Noushig Eloyan, who some may recognize as the federal Liberal candidate in Ahuntsic in 2011.

Despite its leader leaving, Vision Montréal found life as a strong Official Opposition to Tremblay, retaining nine members in 2005, mostly in heavily francophone communities such as Mercier--Hochelaga-Maissoneuve. They were well positioned to challenge Tremblay in 2009 with their candidate, former péquiste Municipal Affairs Minister and interim Official Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Louise Harel, running on corruption allegations versus the Mayor and his administration. However Harel, being associated with the Parti Québécois and was the provincial minister who helped Bourque merge the Island, wasn't necessarily popular among needed constituencies in the more suburban and allophone portions of the city. A scandal involving her second-in-command didn't help either, and she lost to Tremblay, 37.9% to 32.7%.

Harel isn't running this time for mayor, and instead her compatriots in Vision Montréal, along with some independents, are backing university professor and economist Marcel Côté for the mayoralty. Thus, despite still existing, Vision Montréal does not technically exist; candidates, including Harel, are running as Coalition candidates instead.  However, not much has necessarily changed as far as I can tell, and many of the same people are still running, and the party still has a general centre-left bent. Some platform highlights include the creation of a full-time Ethics Commissioner, put more funding into public transit, restructure the Executive Committee a bit, and so on. To be honest, Côté's platform is even fluffier than Coderre's, with lots of nice-sounding statements but little substance. However, this could also be because I'm reading the English section. I gleaned some extra things off of Vision Montréal's website, including the possibility of toll roads, though I don't know how that plays with Côté's platform.

Projet Montréal - Équipe Bergeron:
Montréal's "eternal third party" is Projet Montréal, the personal outfit of urban planner Richard Bergeron. PM first contested the 2005 election, when Bergeron was squeezed down to under 9% of the vote in the Tremblay-vs-Bourque match-up and the party won jut one council seat. However the party and Bergeron gained major support in 2009 as a third alternative to Tremblay's corruption and Harel's bad associations, shooting up to ten councillors and Bergeron ending election night with a strong 25.45% of the vote, representing a change from the usual two-way fights of Montréal's electoral history. Despite that accomplishment, Bergeron and his party haven't necessarily gotten a lot of attention, being without much power or influence on Council (and people not really caring unless a corruption allegation pops up), and appointed by Tremblay to the Executive Committee, responsible for urban planning, thus becoming apart of the system he kind of ran against (as these rebels always do...).

Much about Bergeron and PM's ideology can be gleaned pretty quickly if you look at a map. Projet Montréal's 2005 and 2009 platforms focused much on sustainable development, greener urban planning, and a more in-touch Council with a focus on participatory democracy. With a program like that and Bergeron's personality, the party's strengths came in what I like to call the "left-wing core" of Montréal, in Plateau-Mont-Royal, Rosemont--La Petite-Patrie, and Ville-Marie, specifically Sainte-Marie. These areas are somewhat lower-income, filled with young francophones, university students, and urban left-wingers who drink up Bergeron's idealism.

Much of Projet Montréal's platform is the same kind of thing as before, with stuff about a "a healthy, green city" and so on, just so you know where Bergeron is going. Another point I've seen crop up on their site is how Projet Montréal is the city's only "clean" party, something which I'm sure will come in handy when trying to make a distinction versus Coderre and Côté, whose supporting parties are made up of the old councillors who have plenty of egg on their collective faces.

Other Parties/Candidates

As of right now there are nine other confirmed candidates for the mayoralty, many of them focused on the corruption issue with party names like "Vrai changement pour Montréal" ("Real change for montreal") or Intégrité Montréal. None of them are expected to be real challengers for the mayor's seat, though I keep seeing Mélanie Joly pop up now and again, so she may be a bigger contender than I think.

On the Council side, there are a multitude of small parties which focus on pet issues or on specific communities, such as Équipe Anjou, Équipe Dauphin Lachine (led by former UM-then-independent borough mayor Claude Dauphin), or Équipe Louise O'Sullivan - Parti Montréal Ville Marie, which seems like kind of a mouthful to say at the door. Some of these with strong candidates will win Council and borough seats and could become part of the government of the city, depending on who exactly wins the mayor's race of course.


I don't know enough about the state of Montréal to say what the feeling is like on the ground right now, though this poll gives a pretty good indication that people are not only interested in what is going on, they're also fairly pissed off. Léger's poll indicates that corruption is tied with infrastructure as the number one issue, this in a city where pieces of bridges almost regularly fall onto highways (though when asked what they'd do if they were mayor, respondents overwhelmingly choose to fix infrastructure versus fighting corruption).

What position do these candidates start in? Coderre has a lot of organization behind him, as does Côté; both are a break from the past and are making promises to clean up the city, and even though their supporter's ranks are filled with councillors from l'ancien regime, people seem to be listening. Bergeron is still pretty popular as far as I can tell, even if he hasn't been a huge news maker in the era of police raids and corruption inquiries - that could easily be a strength, mind you. But none are perfect, which could lead to a lack of interest and another low-turnout election like 2005 or 2009.

While the Council make-up is mostly determined by which mayoralty candidate receives the best backing, I do think there is a good chance Montréal will get something different this time. Unless one candidate really runs away with the vote, there are three strong organizations on the ground that are competing with one another, often in the same place. I expect Coderre and his team to gain a lot of support in areas where Tremblay and both federal and provincial Liberals do well, while Côté's Coalition and Projet Montréal have their own bases among francophones in the east of the island. The question becomes whether their candidates in other areas across the city can expand their presence, regardless of whether or not their mayoralty candidate does well in their borough. That will be the question on the minds of those in Coderre's camp especially, given that many of those incumbent UM members will likely be looking to re-create their own party even if Coderre doesn't win.

So for me at least, the race is up in the air. But you can follow along to see how the campaign is going at any number of sites, including Métro News (en français), the Gazette's site, and CBC.

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