Well that was disappointing…

La Grande Jatte Moderne - Mount Royal, Autumn 2013

Now that I’ve had a bit of time to digest the results, here are some thoughts on the 2013 Montreal municipal election.

Ideas didn’t matter. The election was entirely personality-driven and, once again to our detriment, over-focused on the person who would become mayor of the city, and not the representative at the district or borough level. In four boroughs – Outremont, Anjou, LaSalle and Lachine – parties that were borough-focused swept both the councillor and borough mayor positions. They have since indicated they will not form any kind of alliance with the mayor-elect. Independent borough parties now represent approx. 185,000 ‘Montrealers’. This represents about 11% of the city’s population who may be, for entirely political reasons, disconnected from the central administration. The three independents are all formerly of Union Montreal (insert obvious joke here…)

Voter participation came in at 43%, or 477,000 people in a city with 1,102,000 eligible voters. This means about 625,000 people who could have voted did not. 57% absolute disengagement (no participation), and an unknown degree of partial disengagement among those who did vote as a consequence of widespread political illiteracy vis-a-vis the design and function of our local electoral system. That the top two candidates managed to gain as many votes as they did, some 273,000 split between them, representing 57% of the votes cast, without any kind of grassroots local representatives or party architecture in place. The two mayoral candidates that represented parties – Coté and Bergeron representing a Union-Vision coalition and Projet Montréal respectively – only took in 178,000 votes between them, or 37% of the 477,000 cast.

Mélanie Joly declared herself to be something of the ‘real winner’, indicating it was “mission accomplished” vis-a-vis her mayoral campaign, this despite the fact that she lost the mayoralty with 129,000 votes to Coderre’s 150,000 (indicating 27% and 32% of the votes cast, respectively, though only 18% and 14% of the voting population). She says she’ll be sticking around and will make a run at the mayoralty in 2017, but I have a strong suspicion this was a test run for an entry into federal politics, likely as a star Quebec candidate designed to appeal broadly to Quebec women, youth, urbanites etc. (and that’s not a half bad mix either – it’s NDP territory, presently). Certainly Alexandre Trudeau’s out-of-nowhere endorsement helped what should be lauded as a truly brilliant campaign, but what kills me is that it may not really have been to lead this city in the first place. I’m not comfortable with the idea that my city’s municipal election, and a crucial one at that, is merely a tool for which political legitimacy can be tested and polling data gathered. What about actually choosing people to solve our problems and make tomorrow brighter than yesterday?

Equally disconcerting was how little the race really changed from day one. Denis Coderre came out ahead in the first poll and it was accepted as a fait-accompli that he would be mayor. Also disturbing, the boroughs with the lowest participation rate (running from 25% to about 42%), which included Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, the Sud-Ouest, Ville-Marie, Pierrefonds-Roxboro and Saint-Laurent, represent about 483,000 people, or 29% of the city’s population.

I suspect Coderre’s ultimate appeal is that, perhaps some, feel he’s particularly well-suited to defend our interests against the PQ while maintaining a crucial link to the Federal Liberals. Should Justin Trudeau be elected in 2015, Mr. Coderre’s relationship with the party could come in handy and potentially result is some newfound federal interest and investment in our city.

But that’s a best case scenario.

Mr. Coderre is a career politician and that should be taken into consideration. He goes which way the wind blows.

But he’ll also soon be tested. The imbecilic Parti Québécois has decided to introduce the possibly unconstitutional, draconian, punitive and politically-motivated Charter of Values, ostensibly designed to defend the equality of the sexes and the secularism of the state while in actuality accomplishing nothing more than to sew needless rifts in Quebec society. Coderre said he won’t tolerate the proposed Bill 60, but it remains to be seen what he can and/or will do about it.

The only real light at the end of this mess was that Richard Bergeron would not be the last leader of Projet Montréal, that within one to two years a new party leader will be chosen, and lead the party in the 2017 municipal election. I’m not happy to see him gone, he has every reason to stay on and try again. After all, he built the party from nothing to 28 councillors, and that’s not too shabby, especially given he did it in three elections. But what matters is that Projet Montréal will live to fight again. It’s the most legitimate political organization this city has, and I’m glad it’ll stick around.

Francois Cardinal, an optimist, suggests that Denis Coderre should offer Bergeron the job of STM president (in addition to other interesting job opportunities). I couldn’t agree more.

Final thought: in order to avoid the myriad problems caused by widespread (and politically manipulative) disengagement, we should endeavour to secure a compulsory voting act for the city before the next election. I’d like to see what kind of civic administration we’d have with near 100% participation.

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