Chaos and politicking at city hall as Union Montreal loses majority
MONTREAL—In the week and a half since Mayor Gerald Tremblay resigned, the party he helped create has struggled to hang on. On Wednesday, six councillors left Union Montreal and ended the party’s majority at city hall.
While the party’s candidate for interim mayor had seemed likely to march towards a coronation, he is now being challenged by the party’s former No. 2: Michael Applebaum.
On Friday, Applebaum quit as the chair of the city’s powerful executive committee. The high-profile departure came after Applebaum was snubbed as Union’s choice for interim mayor. Brandishing a report on corruption he claimed the council had voted to conceal, Applebaum also cited the committee’s preference for a 3.3 per cent tax increase as his reasons for leaving.
On Wednesday afternoon, Union’s choice for interim mayor Richard Deschamps adopted nearly all of Applebaum’s positions, yielding to increase taxes by only 2.2 per cent and even allowing for opposition members to join the executive committee in a coalition..
“To be frank, I was expecting this,” said Deschamps. “Don’t worry, I’m solid.”
Deschamps's hand was somewhat forced on this matter, since six councillors including Michael Applebaum, Susan Clarke, Frantz Benjamin, Lionel Perez, Alain Tasse and Frank Venneri left the party on Wednesday.
Their departure joined them to four other independents sitting in city hall. Applebaum announced Wednesday afternoon that he will be running as an independent candidate to become interim mayor.
“I've seen his work ethics, I’ve seen his politics, I’ve seen the way he loves Montreal,” said Tasse, who will support Applebaum as mayor.
“I’ve always been one of the greatest supporters of Michael in caucus when I was with Union Montreal,” added Perez. “We see the best and the worst of human nature right now. There is a fight for power.”
Counting as many as 10 votes for him, Applebaum told reporters on Wednesday that he felt momentum had shifted away from Deschamps and his former colleagues.
“I think he sees very clearly that the wave is on my side. It’s very clear that the opposition is supporting me,” said Applebaum.
For his part, Applebaum says he wants to be Montreal’s next mayor—but only until the next municipal election. He has vowed not to run for mayor in 2013.
Applebaum has called on the next mayor to be an independent, someone with no ties to any party and “above the fray.” Vision Montreal leader Louise Harel said she was open to the idea.
When he announced his intention Wednesday to run as an independent, Applebaum was asked about his perceived linguistic handicap. The question was: What would Applebaum say to people who don't want an Anglophone mayor?
"Yes, I'm an Anglophone," he replied, speaking in French. "Yes, I make mistakes from time to time. Yes, I have an accent that some people might even find charming.
"I was born here. I am a Quebecer. I'm proud of being able to work in French. Now I think we should focus on other things."
If Anglophones have traditionally held considerable power in Quebec's business community, the political and demographic clout has belonged to the French.
Some pillars of Quebec governance, such as the Caisse de depot pension fund, were even built around the idea of using the state to address that imbalance in the boardrooms.
Anglos did hold several cabinet positions in the recent Charest government including justice, immigration, environment and aboriginal affairs.
But one political commentator suggested Wednesday that there's a limit to what English-speaking Quebecers can aspire to in politics.
Longtime Montreal Gazette political columnist Don Macpherson weighed in on the issue in a blog post. He called Applebaum's French acceptable and questioned whether his perceived handicap is his accent or if it his English name and that French isn't his mother tongue.
He noted that 40 per cent of Montrealers are non-francophones but that the city had not had a non-francophone mayor since 1912.
Drastic changes in one week
When this week began Union Montreal had 33 of the 63 occupied seats in the chamber—there are 64 seats in all, but the seat vacated when Gerald Tremblay resigned as mayor will not be filled until the next municipal election.
On Monday Giovanni Rapana, a borough councillor for Riviere-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles, left the party saying citizens have lost all faith in Union Montreal.
St. Michel councillor Benjamin quit the caucus last week, saying he was disgusted, but only officially left the party Wednesday.
Despite the resignations from its party, in Montreal's municipal governance, Union Montreal still controls the majority of borough councils.
However with the resignations of Applebaum, Perez and Clarke, Union Montreal has now lost control of the Cote-des-Neiges-NDG borough. Applebaum is the borough's mayor while Clarke and Perez are councillors. Peter McQueen holds a seat representing Projet Montreal, leaving only Helen Fotopulos and Marvin Rotrand as Union Montreal councillors.
Thursday afternoon is the deadline for councillors to present themselves to the city clerk as candidates to become interim mayor to replace Tremblay.
City councillors will vote by secret ballot on Friday to choose the interim mayor.
—with files from The Canadian Press.