News  Tremblay narrowly elected to third term

Low voter turnout linked to recent scandals and internal party problems

Gérald Tremblay was re-elected for a third term as mayor of Montreal on Sunday, with his party, Union Montreal, winning 38 per cent of the popular vote. Candidates from the other two main parties, Louise Harel of Vision Montréal and Richard Bergeron of Projet Montréal, received 33 and 26 per cent of the votes, respectively.

Tremblay’s victory was noticeably less sweeping than his 54 per cent victory in 2005, and his party lost significant ground in the City councillor and borough elections. Projet Montreal swept the Plateau elections, taking borough mayor, three positions on City Council, and three borough councillor positions.

In the weeks preceding the elections, Union Montréal’s image was tarnished as several allegations involving corruption, collusion, and ties to organized crime were levelled at the mayor’s office. But while these events may have narrowed Tremblay’s margin of victory, they were not enough to propel either Harel or Bergeron into the mayor’s office. Some critics have pointed to problems within Vision Montréal and Projet Montréal that may have shaken voter confidence.

La Presse columnist Michèle Ouimet, for instance, suggested in an article Sunday that many Montreal anglophones were averse to Harel because of her background with the sovereigntist Parti Québécois and her limited English skills. “For most anglophones, she has three mortal sins on her conscience…the ‘forced’ mergers [of predominately francophone Montreal with nearby anglophone municipalities by the PQ in 2001], her monolingualism, and her sovereigntist convictions,” Ouimet wrote in French.

Montreal news blogger Kate McDonnell, however, suggested that Harel’s monolingualism was a “red herring” and that Vision’s failures truly stemmed from its lack of cohesion as a party. McDonnell also attributed the party’s disappointing performance to former Vision leader Benoit Labonté’s sensational downfall following accusations of collusion. “[Labonté and Harel] was a marriage of convenience that was never going to work out,” McDonnell said. “That party didn’t smell good politically.”

In a CBC interview, Réal Ménard, a former Bloc Québécois MP and an ally of Harel, blamed Project Montréal for “splitting the opposition.”

But despite falling 12 per cent short of victory, Bergeron saw an increase in voter confidence from nine per cent in 2005 to 26 per cent in 2009. McDonnell did not agree that this increase was a reactionary electoral distaste for Union and Vision’s corruption. “They probably got a few votes by process of elimination…but I think in the places that voted for Project Montréal, it was a demonstration that people like what the party stands for,” McDonnell said. “Hopefully they can get some things done this time around to show that they can be taken seriously.”

Gazette columnist Henry Aubin agreed that Projet Montréal’s platform was effective but that future mayoral success may depend on a new leader who inspires more confidence than Bergeron. “His program has a halo around it – it’s great. But the messenger isn’t the most effective,” he said in an interview.

An acceptably pathetic voter turnout
Total voter turnout as of Wednesday evening was 39 per cent. Marcel Blanchet, Quebec’s directeur général des elections, said in a Radio-Canada interview Monday that given the atmosphere of corruption surrounding the municipal election, voter turnout was “acceptable.”

McDonnell had another word for it: pathetic. “Frankly, I was surprised more people weren’t angry enough to vote,” she said, though she acknowledged that voters had a less-than-ideal set of candidates, and that municipal politics generally fall below the public radar. “People will say that municipal government makes no difference. So long as they clear the snow and collect the garbage, who gives a shit who they are or what they do?” she said.

McDonnell, however, emphasized that municipal politics dictate “the day-to-day fabric” of citizens’ lives, and that for her part she has not missed an election since the sage advice of a high school friend. “I wasn’t going to vote,” McDonnell said, “and my friend said, ‘If you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain about anything the government does for four years.’”

Fixing the corruption
Tremblay’s success in the election, however, is not a major vote of unconditional public confidence. Some say his narrow victory highlights the need to make good, at least in the short term, on his promises to clean up the municipal government.

“There’s a real crisis in confidence in City Hall. Tremblay has lost the respect and the trust of many if not most Montrealers,” Aubin explained. That respect will be hard to win back, Aubin added, if Tremblay, “a creature of machine politics,” is not willing to break his old habits and agree to major reforms. Ideally, said Aubin, the mayor would agree to a public inquiry but this is unlikely to happen. “It could be devastating for the respect that he’s looking for because…it would find the sleaze within those contract awards,” Aubin said.

Without such an inquiry, Aubin believed that regaining voter confidence will require another high-profile, symbolic gesture on Tremblay’s part, such as creating a “coalition” executive cabinet composed of leaders from all major parties.

Bergeron pledged to create such a coalition if Projet Montréal had won, and on election night he expressed a desire to work with Tremblay.

The mayor, however, rejected the idea of building such a coalition on Wednesday.

Projet Montréal city councillor Émilie Thuillier has little confidence that such a coalition could be effectively led by Tremblay anyway. “It is the person with the power that decides,” she said.

Both Aubin and McDonnell felt the City should make changes to its elections and municipal politics, given its legacy of corporate influence and corruption. Aubin thought the place to start would be stricter regulations of campaign finance.

“You can reform the elections act so that business people will no longer be the sugar daddies of parties,” said Aubin. He also suggested altering the layout of the municipal council by either dividing the city of Montreal into smaller electoral ridings or by reducing the council size from 64 members (the largest in North America) to anywhere between six and 18.

Though McDonnell also hoped to see changes, she felt it would only be possible to “clean up” municipal politics to a certain extent. “You can root out the obvious corruption, but you can’t expect a politician…who we elect for being sociable [and] a good networker…to suddenly become this monk in a glass box,” she said, noting the classic axiom that “the people who will get into power are the people who shouldn’t.”

Four more years of Tremblay
If Tremblay’s recent discussions with the media are any indication, his administration’s reforms will be mainly minor changes that will not deviate significantly from business asusual.

Aubin cited continued city-wide expansion of the Bixi project as an example of a mostly cosmetic venture. Missing, according to Aubin, is a “strategy that really tries to tackle greenhouse gases seriously” as well as other strong measures for sustainability.

McDonnell added that while Vision and Union “stuck bits of feel-good environmentalism all over their platforms”, only Projet Montréal offered a cohesive, coherent platform for sustainability.

Thuillier, however, stated that Projet Montréal is willing to work with Tremblay “on a project-by-project basis.”