Mayoral candidates take part in rowdy debate for city's top job
MONTREAL -- Three top candidates for Montreal mayor took part in a rowdy debate at CTV Montreal studios Sunday night to discuss issues of ethics, quality of life, Anglophones and minorities, and their vision for the future.
Projet Montreal leader Richard Bergeron, Team Denis Coderre leader Denis Coderre, and Coalition Montreal leader Marcel Coté butted heads as they interrupted each other to defend their positions.
All three leaders agreed on the urgency to clean up city hall and a special status for Montreal when it comes to a proposed charter of values, but the agreements ended there.
The candidates kicked off the debate with brief opening statements – Marcel Coté spoke of his experience in a variety of businesses and tasks forces. He said that he decided to run because he wants to make sure what happened to the city “never happens again.”
Denis Coderre said that the city is “bruised but not broken” and said that his experience will allow him to start with “no learning curve.” He also stressed his opposition to the PQ’s Charter of Values.
Richard Bergeron said that it was time to put aside the “business as usual,” and stressed that his party has not been accused of corruption at the Charbonneau Commission. Bergeron said he plans to enact “ambitious and realistic projects,” such as the creation of a tramway.
Some early fireworks went off when a viewer’s question was presented asking the candidates to explain their policies to avoid future corruption.
Coderre suggested that most politicians and bureaucrats are honest but the city would create a new Inspector general that would be “like a police of contracts,”
Bergeron pointed out that Coderre’s team includes many former Union Party candidates and said that Coderre failed to respect his promises to keep donations to $100 or less.
Coderre counterpunched with a charge that Bergeron had tried unsuccessfully to recruit Alan DeSousa and Harout Chitilian, both Union Party members who had joined his team instead. Bergeron didn’t directly deny the charge but said that nobody in Projet Montreal voted to support either of them as interim mayor.
Coderre said that Bergeron had been attacking former Union Party members through “guilt by association” and made reference to a recent report that police might be investigating a charge of cronyism in which Bergeron’s Projet Montreal allegedly handed over $38,000 to a fruit and vegetable kiosk controlled by his party members.
Bergeron called the accusation “a vicious attack by Louise Harel.”
Coté, who is associated with Harel, simply argued that the city doesn’t need another bureaucrat to prevent corruption.
Taxes and spending
The candidates demonstrated a significant philosophical difference when it came to the topic taxes and spending. At one end Bergeron proposed some ambitious projects such as a tramway and the Maritime Gateway, a large proposed structure to be built atop railway tracks. At the other end of the spectrum Marcel Coté said that the priority must lie in improving infrastructure, such as road and water systems.
All three proposed modifications to improve transparency and fight corruption. Coté suggested that city council agendas be simplified and Coderre proposed modifying the rules of contract procurement and also said that the city must subcontract less.
Bergeron said that the water system has been repaired to an acceptable level and that such projects as the tramway and the Maritime Gateway could be achieved partly with the elimination of city hall corruption which he said cost $100 million per year.
Coté said that Bergeron’s plans were “big dreams, but financial nightmares.” Bergeron fired back by implying that Coté’s vision for the city was unambitious.
Coderre took the middle ground, promising both infrastructure repair and money for larger projects. “You can chew gum and walk at the same time,” he said, adding that he’d dedicate money to the 375th anniversary of Montreal.
On the issue of fairness towards minority communities, all three expressed similar positions, recommending more hiring of anglophones and visible minorities and all three spoke out against the PQ's proposed Charter of Values.
Marcel Coté said that he would ensure that members of minority communities would be hired until their numbers reflected the demographic reality of the city. He said the aggressive promotion of minority hirings would be done, “not by lowering standings but by eliminating bias.”
Bergeron's comments were similar to those he made in the first French debate, noting that the reality of Montreal is that a large number of residents are bilingual and that things work relatively well as is, with residents being permitted to ask for service in English or French from the city.
Bergeron noted that from his experience in administration it’s not always easy to put good intentions into practice, such as in the hiring of minorities. He cited a time when he helplessly objected to a new batch of hires at the firefighting service, each one being a French Canadian, “I said ‘hey that’s not acceptable.’”
Coderre took the occasion to note that Bergeron had served on the executive committee, so he was not blameless in such situations.
Coderre also raised such issues related to the plight of immigrants, such as affordable housing, racial profiling and a refusal to recognize foreign educational credentials.
The candidates were then asked what they would do to restore civic pride, leading Coderre and Bergeron to express somewhat more optimistic views than Coté.
Coderre noted that Montrealers need to stop “self-whipping and look ahead,” while Bergeron said that with his tram, an announced metro to Anjou and an improved bus service, the city will once again feel pride.
Coté said that the citizens will only be feeling pride again once maintenance of infrastructure is improved, which, in turn, will lead the city to get back on a “solid footing.”
Bergeron countered Coté's view by arguing that "80 percent" of the corruption cleanup and water infrastructure repairs have already been completed and that larger, more ambitious projects such as the ones he is proposing need to be put on the agenda.
Bergeron also accused Coté’s usage of the word “structure,” claiming that it sounded a lot like his colleague Louise Harel, who had previously tried and failed to gain the mayor’s chair. He implied that Coté’s plan was to have Marvin Rotrand gain votes in the west and Harel gain votes in the east.
Coderre then leaped in to accuse Bergeron of being “dogmatic” a description used against the Projet Montreal leader in previous debates as well. He promised to represent all Montrealers.
Bergeron concluded with a description of his party as offering “integrity, competence and ambition,” noting that his team has experience running two boroughs and several members have served on the executive committee.
Coté said again that although he is new to politics, he has a vast experience in administration and is “someone who provides solutions and fixes things.”
Coderre said that he has been fighting for Montreal long on the federal stage and his team is a good mix of experienced administrators and new blood that will “be able to make this city shine once again.”
What they were saying hours before the debate
Before the debate, all three candidates were out campaigning. Bergeron said that he would build more low-income family housing and increase green spaces, helping keep families on the island.
“We have to create new neighbourhoods. We have to invite 75,000 more Montrealers to live in downtown Montreal,” he said.
He said that his proposed tramway system on Rene-Levesque Blvd., would cost the city $1 billion over four years. Bergeron said fares would pay it off in 30 years.
Bergeron has defended the idea from the constant attack that it would cost too much. “We don't invent money. This is the money that Montrealers invest in suburbs when they move to the suburbs. Everybody knows that we lose more or less 21,000 people a year. These people invest in suburbs. I just want to keep this money in the core of Montreal,” he said.
Meantime, Montreal’s shoreline was top of mind for Marcel Coté Sunday.
With more than 250 kilometres of shoreline in Montreal, the Coalition Montreal leader said he wants it to be revitalized and more accessible.
“The centre of the city is the point where you have the highest density of the population and yet that's the only thing they have if they want to get close to the water, just by walking,” he said.
Part of his shoreline vision is currently broken up by the CN rail tracks that run along the Old Port of Montreal.
If elected mayor, Coté said he would start negotiations to have the rails removed.
“Mentalities are evolving. CN knows that it is coming; CN knows that it needs a safe track,” he said, adding that he would like CN to find another route to transport cargo away from a major tourist site.
Denis Coderre did not campaign Sunday, as he spent the day preparing for the municipal leadership debate broadcast on CTV Montreal.