Montreal politics in the 2010s saw quite a bit of change, followed by more change. The city had five mayors in ten years.

The decade kicked off with the final two years of Gérald Tremblay’s twelve year reign as Mayor. By November 2012, though, the Quebec corruption scandal had engulfed many of his closest associates, meaning he had to resign before his term was up.

While Tremblay may have avoided any personal repercussions for the crooked business-as-usual approach Montreal and Quebec were famous for, his successor Michael Applebaum wasn’t so lucky. Applebaum was arrested at City Hall just over seven months into his term as Interim Mayor and was subsequently (March 2017) sentenced to a year in prison March for bribery and extortion that happened when he was Borough Mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Enter Laurent Blanchard, temporary replacement mayor for the temporary replacement mayor. He had one job: not get arrested for six months until the election and he pulled it off! Great job M. Blanchard.

2013: Time for Change?

Mélanie Joly (photo Valeria Bismar)

The stage was set for 2013. In one corner, former Liberal Cabinet Minister Denis Coderre leading the cleverly named Équipe Denis Coderre, a group largely comprised of former team Tremblay members (the ones who weren’t arrested). In the other, Projet Montréal, still led by its founder Richard Bergeron.

That was the case until political upstart Mélanie Joly entered the fray with her newly formed Vrai changement pour Montréal party. Joly’s energy and political skill helped her overcome accusations that she was only using this run as a springboard to federal politics and that it was all about her, not her team.

She finished second to Coderre in the mayoral race, only six points down, but her party was fourth in the seat count, way behind Coderre’s team and Projet Montréal and also with less representation than Marcel Côté’s Coalition Montréal. Joly quit municipal politics shortly thereafter and ran federally for the Liberals two years later. She is currently our Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie.

As for Projet, they held the Plateau and Rosemont boroughs and made significant gains elsewhere, most notably taking all but the Borough Mayor’s seat in the Sud Ouest (until Benoit Dorais eventually decided to join his councillors).

Denis “Cut the Mic” Coderre

For the next four years, though, Denis Coderre was running the table. And he had no problem reminding everyone of that fact whenever he felt he needed to or just wanted to:

  • Car sharing service downtown? Use the power the Mayor has as the defacto Bourough Mayor of Ville Marie to block it and admit it’s because of personal support from the taxi industry.
  • Montreal’s turning 375? Time to spend a ton of money on random stuff like granite tree stumps and a national anthem for a borough where support for the administration is strong.
  • A dog (that wasn’t a pit bull) attacks someone? Ban all pit bulls.
  • Someone brings up valid points about the pit bull ban? “Cut the mic!
  • Flooding in the West Island? Pull rescue workers off the job for a photo op.
  • Opposing federal party installs a community mailbox? Personally take a jackhammer to it. (Okay, that one was kinda cool)
  • Formula E organizers want the race to go through city streets even though there’s a perfectly good racetrack to use? Do their bidding, disrupt people’s lives and try to make the event look like a success with free tickets.

That last one, honestly, probably cost him re-election more than anything else. Yes, the Coderre era, brief as it was, ended.

Valérie Plante and a New Direction

On November 5, 2017, Valérie Plante, who was never supposed to have defeated former PQ Cabinet Minister Louise Harel for a council seat, was the underdog in the Projet Montréal leadership race and an extreme longshot to take down Coderre at the beginning of the campaign, became Montreal’s first elected female mayor. Her party also took control of not only City Council but also several bouroughs including CDN/NDG, the city’s largest.

Right out of the gate, Plante and her team undid two of Coderre’s most unpopular decisions: the pit bull ban and the prospect of a second Formula E race running through Montreal’s streets. They also recently overturned in council the Tremblay-era changes to bylaw P-6 which had previously been overturned by the courts in 2016 and 2018.

Plante and her team also voted early on to ban calèche horses, a law that goes into effect tomorrow. So they’re starting the new decade with a promise even Coderre tried to deliver on but failed.

One of Plante’s most controversial moves was the pilot project to bar private cars from using the mountain as a shortcut. They ultimately decided not to make it permanent after respondents to the public consultation process they had set up overwhelmingly rejected it (personally I thought it was a good idea that didn’t go far enough).

That decision to listen to the public most likely played into longtime Plateau Borough Mayor and Projet Montréal heavyweight Luc Ferrandez resigning. Earlier this year, he stepped down saying he thought his party wasn’t willing to go far enough for the environment.

For years, Ferrandez had been successful in the Plateau but harmful to his party in other parts of the city. Now, Plante and Projet’s opponents don’t have the Ferrandez albatros to contend with and his replacement Luc Rabouin handily retained power for the party in the borough.

This doesn’t mean Plante and company didn’t make mistakes in their first two years. They haven’t properly dealt with ongoing problems like systemic racism in the Montreal Police Force (SPVM) and in our institutions, the for-profit authoritarian leanings of our transit system and its ticket enforcer cops or adequately challenged the CAQ Provincial Government’s bigoted Bill 21, something Montrealers, by and large oppose, despite support in the rest of Quebec.

There are also some self-made mistakes like cancelling plans to rename a street in the Sud Ouest after the late Daisy Sweeney or the idea of naming the Griffintown REM train stop after former PQ Premier Bernard Landry. The latter an idea that didn’t need to be floated to begin with and should have been withdrawn after public outcry from the historic Irish community.

Plante was, however, successful, in securing funding for some of her signature campaign promise, the Montreal Metro Pink Line. In particular, the western portion that will travel above ground.

If the Pink Line starts to see the light of day and Plante fixes or starts to fix the problems I just mentioned, she’ll be on her way to another term. She has two years.

So, will the next decade be as bumpy on the Montreal political scene as this past one was? I honestly don’t know, I don’t have 2020 vision.

Featured Image by Jason C. McLean

447 people detained at a May Day march Wednesday, some for as long as six hours without food, water or access to a bathroom. Elementary school parents hassled Thursday morning for not providing the route they and their children would take to educate the public about road safety at a dangerous intersection. The SPVM has been busy enforcing bylaw P-6.

Cops in Montreal seem to be on a power trip. Not surprising considering just last Tuesday, Montreal’s city council voted down a motion 34-25 put forward by Projet Montreal councilor Alex Norris that would have removed the changes made to bylaw P-6 last year forcing protesters to provide police with a route of their demonstration among other things (this following Projet’s François Limoges’ excellent speech on the right to protest).

Politicians voting in or to uphold a law that anyone can tell is both unconstitutional and wrong is nothing new, not even in Quebec. Just last spring, the Charest government brought in Bill 78 and the Tremblay-controlled council passed the aforementioned changes to P-6 as a way for the SPVM to enforce 78 without actually doing so and facing a charter challenge.

But those were different times. Those laws were passed as a desperate attempt to stop a peaceful protest movement that was already in full swing and garnering international media attention.

city hall sit-in
Impromptu sit-in at City Hall following the vote on P-6 (image

Predictably, they failed. The Maple Spring was too big to contain. Even the cops used their newfound powers sporadically.

This time around, the draconian measures kicked in before there was a large enough groundswell to jump over them. With only a few hundred people to corral, the SPVM were free to act like bullies and politically profile and target people they didn’t like.

Even in front of city hall, in front of the cameras in broad daylight, the cops tackled someone who was just taking pictures and ticketed people for playing music and spitting on the ground. These disgusting abuses of authority have now been vindicated by our elected officials and that’s really scary.

It’s also truly frightening to think that anyone going out to demonstrate will have the thought of a $637 fine and six hours without a bathroom break in the back of their mind. That may not prevent the hardcores, but it will give many second thoughts.

I’ll admit that I’m even a little nervous to attend a protest. Given the way the SPVM have been treating what even they see as legitimate media lately makes me wonder if an FTB press pass would carry any weight with them.

Last year’s casseroles marches (photo by Chris Zacchia)

In this climate, how can something like the casseroles ever happen? Last year people who were too busy to express their sympathies with student marchers and their disgust with Bill 78 on a regular basis could just take a walk down the street banging on their pots and pans on a warm summer night and then go about their business. Now, sadly, they may be too scared.

That’s obviously why the cops decided to use these tactics. They wanted to prevent the movement from reaching the widespread appeal it had last year. Their other goal, presumably, was a political one : to change the script.

If the student movement’s reboot hadn’t been crushed in its infancy, it would be clear to everyone that it never was for Marois and the PQ, just against Charest and his Liberal Party’s education policies. If the protests that resumed when Marois decided to index tuition hadn’t been oppressed by the SPVM when they were still small, you wouldn’t hear anyone blaming the students for what the PQ is now doing.

In an alternate reality, we may have marchers opposed to Bill 14 walking side by side with the students. Instead, Marois has brought the discourse back to language and separation, window dressing to distract from the fight against austerity and neo-liberal economic policies.

Meanwhile, very few people attending or covering the protests are talking about the Marois education policy or even Marois at all. It’s now a fight against a municipal administration and for the very right to protest. It’s kinda hard to make this a Quebec-wide thing when the movement is stifled in its would-be epicentre.

Last year, our city was a beacon of hope for people opposed to austerity and the oppressive nature of the state. Tourism didn’t suffer, in fact, people even came here for the protests and spent money at local merchants. This year, the image that is getting out is that of the police kettle. Montreal: come for the smoked meat, stay six hours in a kettle because you can’t leave.

kettle meme
Original image by Arij Riahi

The script, indeed, has changed, but it looks like some of the cops have misplaced their copies and are winging it. While their management is claiming that they understand the “necessary nuances” and won’t be enforcing P-6 when it comes to, say, Habs victory celebrations (read: only enforcing it against those they don’t like), it seems that whomever decided to declare that a group of elementary school parents and their children promoting road safety an illegal assembly wasn’t thinking in a very nuanced fashion.

Now consider this along with some of the recent police actions caught on video: an arbitrary arrest of someone walking on the sidewalk, a fully protected riot squad officer shoving a woman with his shield for trying to talk to him, the list goes on. You start getting the picture that police in this town are generally revelling in their newly re-approved authority.

Mayor Applebaum and the city council have created a monster that even they don’t seem able to control anymore. There is a political solution, but that will have to wait until November.

What do we do until then? We can’t accept our city becoming a police state. We can’t accept P-6 and provide a route for spontaneous demonstrations. But we also can’t keep getting hurt, kettled and arbitrarily arrested.

If you have any ideas, please share them. I’m kinda stumped.

* Top image by Jonathan Cyr via Twitter