The Montreal municipal election results are in, or at least most of them are. Some great things happened that really set Montreal on a course of progress. Meanwhile, other things happened, or rather didn’t happen, that keep us right where we are, in a mire of corruption and pro-corporate cronyism.

It all depends on how you look at things, or rather how see the glass of water (insert water meter scandal joke here). Forget the Box now offers you two different views of what happened, take your pick:

The glass half full

The scene at Le National was electric. There was hope in the air and people were celebrating. It wasn’t the victory everyone had hoped for, but it was progress and quite a bit of it, at that. A few weeks ago Forget The Box endorsed Projet Montreal and Richard Bergeron as the party capable of bringing new, progressive ideas to City Hall (read more)

The glass half empty

Despite eight years in power with not much to show for it except a trail of corruption, Gerald Tremblay will remain the mayor of Montreal. This means that projects he has given the green light to will most likely continue, including former petty thief and fraudster, now thug developer Christian Yaccarini’s Quadrilatere St-Laurent. The mayor seemed pretty adamant during his last administration (read more)

The scene at Le National was electric. There was hope in the air and people were celebrating. It wasn’t the victory everyone had hoped for, but it was progress and quite a bit of it, at that.

The screen at the Projet Montreal post-election party at Le National

A few weeks ago Forget The Box endorsed Projet Montreal and Richard Bergeron as the party capable of bringing new, progressive ideas to City Hall, cleaning up all the corruption that the present administration left and getting Montreal on track to becoming once again the booming metropolis that it once was. Voters listened, at least in certain parts of the city and in particular the Plateau.

Projet’s Luc Ferrandez is now the mayor of the borough and all three city councilors as well as all three borough councilors are Projet candidates as well. This gives Projet Montreal a real chance to govern a key part of the city and show what they can do.

Peter McQueen, city councillor-elect in Notre-Dame-de-Grace

Projet also made huge inroads in other parts of town. Peter McQueen, former Green Party candidate and longtime highly active member of the NDG community handily won the Notre-Dame-de-Grace district, making him the lone Projet voice on an otherwise Union Montreal-controlled borough council. Francois Limoges and Marc-André Gadoury won their council seats in the Rosemont-La-Petit-Patrie borough, though the other two seats and the borough mayor job went to Vision Montreal.

Projet’s Pierre Gagner is now the borough mayor of Ahuntsic-Cartierville and the Ahuntsic district is represented by Projet’s Émilie Thuillier, with the other seats split between Union and Vision. Meanwhile Projet’s Pierre Mainville and Sophie Thiébault picked up seats in Ville Marie’s St-Marie district and Sud Ouest’s Saint-Henri-Petite-Bourgogne-Pointe-Saint-Charles district respectively.

In all, Projet Montreal got 10 council seats, completely controls one borough, got the mayorality of another and got people elected in parts of the city no one expected them to. Not bad for a party that is just five years old, holding only three council seat going into the election and not thought to get anyone elected outside of the Plateau.

Richard Bergeron overcame some rather trivial things which were blown out of proportion by the corporate media but wasn’t elected mayor. However, the Projet candidate in the Jeanne-Mance district, Nimâ Valérie Machouf, won her seat. She’s Bergeron’s fellow-candidate, which means he takes her seat and has a voice on the council.

Results trickling in on the big board at Le National

Projet’s election success crosses economic, linguistic and ethnic lines, as does the party itself. Projet Montreal now has a platform to show Montrealers what they can do and hopefully set the stage for winning the next election.

As the party at the National continued well into the night and results continued to trickle in, one thing became apparent.   Montreal is a progressive city and there is now a progressive party that has a real chance to shake things up on a municipal level.

Not all came up roses this election, though. For the downside, click here

Despite eight years in power with not much to show for it except a trail of corruption, Gerald Tremblay will remain the mayor of Montreal. This means that projects he has given the green light to will most likely continue, including former petty thief and fraudster, now thug developer Christian Yaccarini‘s Quadrilatere St-Laurent.

Re-elected mayor Gerald Tremblay with developper Christian Yaccarini

The mayor seemed pretty adamant during his last administration that he had no problem evicting the artists who performed at Café Cleopatre and demolishing historic buildings despite the recommendations of the OCPM. He also didn’t seem to get the irony of building a huge office tower in the middle of the Quartier des Spectacles.

This is also a huge victory for those unscrupulous characters who control things at City Hall from behind the scenes. Even though the mayor now promises to clean things up, remember that he’s the one who dirtied them in the first place.

It would be nice if the mayor listened to the advice of Richard Bergeron and actually tried to get it right this time. Of course then, those he owed campaign debts to wouldn’t be all that happy. Maybe he could rely on police protection, although he did just, as his first post-election act, fire 120 temporary police officers in a reversal of his campaign promise not to do just that.

So why would Montrealers give Tremblay another chance? Well, according to Vision candidate and former Bolc MP Réal Ménard, it’s because the progressive vote was split. He’s right, but he shouldn’t point fingers at Richard Bergeron but rather at his own leader.

Louise Harel is a very divisive figure in Montreal, the type of divisive figure that isn’t likely to get a single candidate elected west of Atwater. Forget the fact that she’s a hardcore péquiste who doesn’t really speak English, two traits that generally don’t sit well with Anglo voters, but she’s also the one who helped bring in the forced mergers on a provincial level earlier this decade.

That helped get Tremblay elected the first time and the spectre of it probably helped get him elected this time, too. Fear and dislike of Harel most likely prompted some people to hold their nose and vote Tremblay no matter what. Wild criticisms in the Gazette of Bergeron probably helped, too.

Harel admitted that Vision’s platform wasn’t that much different from Union, so despite getting some progressive votes, she really wasn’t the progressive choice at all. If Harel had stayed out of the race, Tremblay might have been given his walking papers Sunday night.

That’s all water under the bridge now and we’ll have to wait to see who gets the contract to install the meter. We’re stuck with four more years of the same, at least in terms of who’s on top.

There is, however, quite a bit of progress that happened this election. To see the glass as half-full, please click here

In the 1980s, Christian Yaccarini was on the administration council of the Association générale des étudiants de l’UQAM when he was found guilty of stealing the contents of a caisse étudiant (student-run bank).   The same decade, he was convicted of defrauding the librairie Caron where he worked of $11 604.   He was also found guilty of shoplifting thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from Audio d’occasion.   As he admitted in La Presse today, he spent a couple of months in prison and got out early for good behavior.

Christian Yaccarini (right) at a press conference earier this year

30 years later, the Tremblay administration was looking for someone they could trust to redevelop the stretch of St-Laurent boulevard between St-Catherine and Rene-Levesque.   Rather than hold an open bid, they followed the suggestion of then Ville-Marie borough mayor (now disgraced former right-hand man to Vision Montreal’s Louise Harel) Benoit Labonte and sent him to court Yaccarini on their behalf.

The contract, valued in the millions, was awarded to Yaccarini’s Angus Development Corporation and the administration fought hard to push it through.   They ignored the Office de Consultation Public findings that the project needed to be re-evaluated and instead decided to trust Yaccarini with taxpayer’s money.

In an election dominated by corruption and mafia involvement in city government particularly through the construction industry, Yaccarini even weighed in on the debate a few days ago, complaining that Benoit Labonte had asked him to use a particular construction firm.   He also asserted that Angus has always operated within the “les règles de l’art” whatever that means.

Yaccarini’s criticism of Labonte could be seen as a way of deflecting potential allegations that his firm was in some way part of the problems that have even led to Maclean’s Magazine calling Montreal “a corrupt, crumbling, mob-ridden disgrace.”   It could also be argued that his attack was designed to shore up support for the Tremblay administration who clearly now had Angus’ back.

No matter how you cut it, though, just four days later Yaccarini has his own scandal to deal with.   It seems that this is becoming a trend in this campaign.   Corrupt people accuse others of corruption only to be outed as corrupt themselves a short time later.

Meanwhile, the groundbreaking ceremony for Yaccarini’s 2-22 project, the less controversial of his two projects, was cancelled.   Also last week a fire broke out in one of the recently abandoned buildings that would be demolished to make way for the Quadrilatere St-Laurent, the Angus project that has generated quite a bit of criticism.

The fire was a stone’s throw away from holdouts Café Cleopatre and the Montreal Pool Room.   The cause of the blaze has yet to be determined, so we won’t make any claims as to its cause.

It is, however, safe to say that in the case of this fire in one of the buildings owned by a developer with a known criminal past and ties to politicians accused of corruption and involvement with the mob and an interest in seeing the area devalued further, arson has not been ruled out.

Back in 2005, I participated in a show at the now-defunct Les artistes du Toc Toc in Mile-End. It was called Tramway Trance and was a benefit for a new municipal political party called Projet Montreal.   I didn’t know that much about the party, except for the fact that they wanted to bring the Parc avenue tramway back, which sounded like a good idea to me.

As the night progressed, I did my performance then settled in to check out the rest of the show.   I briefly met Richard Bergeron who seemed at home among artists and people who aren’t the types that generally get associated with mayoral candidates.   This was Projet Montreal’s first election and while they didn’t come to power, Bergeron did get on the Plateau Borough Council.

Four years later, Montreal is going back to the polls again.   At first, it looked like Projet Montreal was poised to make significant gains in the Plateau and get nothing everywhere else.   That was a few months ago.   Now things are different.   They recently jumped eight percent in the polls and are showing up more and more on TV and in the newspapers.

It makes sense.

From water meters to financing irregularities to what seems like backroom dealing regarding the Quadrilatere St-Laurent project (more on this soon), Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s party seems to be dealing with a new scandal every day.   He’s also the guy responsible for the grossly unpopular attempted renaming of avenue du Parc and an attempt to turn all of Griffintown, a historic neighbourhood in the heart of the city, into a suburban-style shopping mall, among other fiascos.

Louise Harel, whom the mainstream media considers to be Tremblay’s main rival, doesn’t seem to be connecting with Montrealers as a whole, not to mention that she can’t speak English well enough to compete in a debate or properly translate her party’s “redemarrer Montreal” slogan.   Benoit Labonte would probably have been a better choice as leader for Vision Montreal, though he is still covered in some of the Tremblay dirt thanks to his time in the mayor’s party.

Meanwhile, Projet Montreal has been putting forward ideas that actually could change things in Montreal for the better.   The tramway plan is back and much bigger than before.   There would be trams on St-Laurent Boulevard as well as Cote-des-Neiges and Mount-Royal, another one running along Centre street through Pointe-St-Charles and Griffintown and a free tram on Ste-Catherine Street downtown.

These would be an integral part of a broader transportation strategy (PDF) that would emphasize reserve bus lanes like the existing ones on avenue du Parc and Pie IX as well as new ones on several major streets, including one that goes all the way to Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport in Dorval.   This strategy also includes a plan to extend the metro’s blue line westward past Snowdon all the way to Montreal West, something many have been requesting for years but none of the other parties seem ready to endorse.

The Projet Montreal approach is an urbanist approach to urban development.   It is part of a strategy designed to reverse the American-style trend that has seen people move out of the city to the suburbs and commute back by personal car.   According to Bergeron’s introductory message in the party’s platform booklet (PDF format), this trend began here in the mid 70s and because of already existing debt, the city wasn’t able to deal with it.

“Between 1971 and 1986 Montreal lost 225,000 residents. Today, despite significant immigration, Montreal numbers 100,000 fewer than it did in 1971,” he observes, “economic cycles came and went strong growth in the second half of the 1980s, a dramatic downturn in the nineties, followed once again by ten years of prosperity and with them a succession of municipal administrations, each unable to halt Montreal’s decline. The exodus of middle-class families continued unabated.”

In particular, Bergeron points to mayor Tremblay’s record and cites the increase of personal car use aided by nine increases in transit fares under Tremblay’s administration.   He finds the mayor’s recent rhetoric about communal transport rings hollow, given that the mayor is pushing for more roads and bridges.

“How is it that, as mayor, he never attempted to reverse the trends that are so harmful to the city which he governs?” Bergeron asks, “the only plausible answer is that he is still enthralled by the now discarded ‘American Way of Life’, with its highways, its motorized mobility, its seas of bungalows and shopping malls, all running on cheap oil. Gérald Tremblay’s idea of   progress, of modernity, of wealth and even of human happiness in other words his most deeply-held convictions and his cultural values all are products of the early 1960s.”

Bergeron argues that this worldview has lead to the recent economic crisis and is now being rejected worldwide.   Instead he proposes an approach similar to that employed successfully by cities like Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Stockholm, Portland, Amsterdam and others.

“Projet Montréal was founded with the precise intention of setting Montreal on the only course remaining at the beginning of the 21st century,” he argues, “there is therefore no need to reinvent the wheel…Let us draw knowledge and inspiration from the best urban achievements of the past thirty years.”

This course would not only see a more efficient and affordable transportation system, but a redeveloped marine gateway, development projects in general being done on a human scale with respect for history and roadwork that lasts.   In brief, Projet Montreal wants to make the city a place that people want to live in and can afford to do so.   They want to bring people (and especially families) back from the suburbs.

They don’t plan to break the budget doing so, either.   Instead, Projet Montreal proposes to eliminate wasteful spending.   Under Tremblay, most of the city’s big projects have been outsourced to private contractors.   This means the city is paying a bureaucrat to deal with the contractor and then paying the contractor to do the work.

Projet Montreal would cut back on giving municipal contracts to private contractors in favor of a better-trained civil service capable of realizing the projects on their own.   They will also end borough mayoralty and replace it with the borough president, have a single city council representing all the boroughs and an overall more transparent and accountable government.

They have brought in judge John Gomery (the man who some feel brought down the Paul Martin government) to oversee the ethics of their fundraising.   They also plans to limit the power of the executive committee and invite more citizens to participate in the political process both at the city council level and through neighbourhood councils.

Projet Montreal hopes to develop truly urban neighbourhoods with green spaces and affordable human-scale housing.   They want to expropriate buildings that have been abandoned or barricaded for over a year (remember what happened with the autonomous social centre?) as well as help integrate the homeless back into society.   This is clearly a platform that favors the people of Montreal over sometimes dubious business interests.

It’s also a platform that has a chance of being realized.   Voter turnout in Montreal elections is historically low, but with enough momentum, it could get higher.   If there is over 30% voter turnout this time around, Projet Montreal feels they have a chance of winning.

Considering all these factors, I’m pleased to announce that we at Forget The Box endorse all of the Projet Montreal candidates running in the Novemember 1st municipal election as well as Richard Bergeron in his candidacy for mayor of Montreal.   If you want to see this project come to fruition, too, you can make it happen by voting for the progressive choice, Projet Montreal.

Ramming a controversial project through and making executive decisions that go against the ruling of a public consultation body aren’t new in politics.  Generally, though, they’re the sort of things politicians do when they have a few years left in their mandate or when they’re almost out of office and can’t return (like how US presidents pardon their friends at the end of their second term).  It’s not the sort of thing they do just before an election campaign.

Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay is an exception.  According to La Presse, his executive committee has decided to ignore the recommendations of the Office de Consultaton Publique de Montreal (OCPM) and the protests of citizens and give the Angus Development Corporation the green light on its controversial Quadrilatere project.

Tremblay and Yaccarini (photo by Robert Skinner, La Presse)

The Angus plan would replace three artistic venues, including the Cleopatra showbar, with an office tower under the banner of Quartier des Spectacles (show quarter).  It has drawn considerable criticism from historians, artists and ordinary residents, many of whom spoke at the OCPM meetings in June.

After the OCPM announced its findings, Angus stated that they would go back to the drawing board and present a new plan to the city council on Monday.  Now, they don’t have to, thanks to the mayor.

The executive committee decision came down just before the start of the municipal election campaign where Tremblay faces opposition from both Vision Montreal’s Louise Harel and Project Montreal’s Richard Bergeron.  The timing could be seen as a way to get discussions on the project out of the way.

Tremblay is already facing criticism for his executive committee vice-chairman André Lavallée’s ties to the FLQ, allegations of illegal financing and the recent water-meter scandal. Maybe a debate on a project which his administration and the mayor personally are heavily involved in is not what he needs.

Tremblay took control of the Quartier des Spectacles project away from the Ville Marie borough in 2007, which was among the reasons behind borough mayor Benoit Labonte’s departure from Tremblay’s party (he’s now with Vision and was the leader of the party for a while).  Since then, Tremblay has stood in steadfast defense of Angus’ plans, despite the criticism.

While it was originally Labonte who approached Yaccarini, he did so as a member of Tremblay’s government.  Instead of a bidding war among developers, the Tremblay administration instead courted Angus, as they weren’t part of the downtown real estate establishment and could deliver a project “outside the norm.”

It now appears that their “norm” includes the developing artists who perform in the neighborhood as well as the people who live there and those interested in the history of Montreal’s old Red Light district.  Their plans do not.

Courting developers who have no roots in the lower Main, the arts or downtown and defending their wishes over what people who live and work in the area want may be the one scandal that the Tremblay administration can’t handle.