Montreal where I have lived ever since 1982 when I moved here from Toronto has once again turned to the left and to bicycle riding environmentalists and community activists for its new mayor and governing party. The election turnout was an unimpressive 42.5 % but the result was nonetheless spectacular.
Ms. Valérie Plante represents a fairly radical but highly creative force in Quebec politics. She defeated Denis Coderre decisively capturing 243,242 votes to Coderre’s 216,104 votes. Projet Montreal also won the majority of the seats on council -34 of the 65 available.This will enable them to implement their platform but also makes them vulnerable to arrogance in the exercise of power.
Ms. Plante is the first woman to win elected power as mayor in Montreal’s long history as a First Nations community and then European colonial outpost linked to the fur trade and later entrepôt to the interior for the development of the Canadian staple economy, head quarters of the Grand Trunk Railway and then commercial capital of Canada rivalling New York for control of trade to the hinterland and now second largest metropolis in Canada. Her party Projet Montréal originally established by an idealistic urban planner Richard Bergeron and outspoken advocate of much improved and ecological public transportation has previously been the major opposition force to more conservative centrist parties who governed Montreal during the difficult decade that included the economic slump and the corruption scandal.Mr. Bergeron had switched sides and joined the Coderre administration. He lost his seat on council in this election. Politics is often cruel and lots of very good people fall victim to the fickle electorate because of the allure of illusory fame or simply because they sincerely believe they can change things for the better.
Montreal is a particularly beguiling case.It is the only great metropolis in the world where two of the world’s great languages and cultures ,English and French, co-exist albeit uneasily. It has a dynamic multicultural personality where many languages are spoken and cultural influences from many parts of the world are encountered daily. Both Plante and Coderre were very open to this diversity. It also not unlike metropolises like Chicago and New York has had larger than life personalities as mayors. In Montreal we have had several boss politicians like Camille Houde and Jean Drapeau who between them governed Montreal for close to 50 years !
I have explored Montreal’s diversity and the effect of linguistic duality in my research on cities , my writing on urban politics and the quest for community and the issue of class consciousness.(see my books City of Dreams :Social Theory and the Urban experience Toronto :1992&2002; Toward a Humanist Political Economy co-authored with Phillip Hansen Black Rose Books, Montreal: 1992) I have also written at length on the critical role infrastructure investment needs to play in our cities.I focus on this in my numerous writings on Keynes, public finance, infrastructure investment and quantitative easing as a necessary policy to recover from severe business cycle downturns and restore lower unemployment.(See for example The Deficit and Debt Management:An Alternative to Monetarism, Ottawa, 1984:Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives; Revisiting Deficit Hysteria, Labour Le travail, No.54 Fall 2004; After the Crash, Rediscovering Keynes and the Origins of Quantitative Easing available on my website haroldchorneyeconomist.com. paper presented to the annual meetings of the Canadian economics association, June 2011, University of Ottawa; John Maynard Keynes and the General theory after 75 years , preface to a presentation to the Canadian Economics Association special panel reconsidering Keynes in a time of crisis, June 3, 2011, University of Ottawa.See also Tim Thomas, ed. The Politics of the City Toronto:ITP Nelson, 1997 )
Mr Denis Coderre got elected to the job of mayor four years ago on a platform of restoring the city , rebuilding its infrastructure and metropolitan status and cleaning up corruption. In many respects he succeeded but he fell victim to some of the frustration felt by people over the chaotic landscape that has emerged while Montreal rebuilds its autoroutes and replaces antiquated infrastructure in many districts of the metropolis.To be fair this is a problem that will be faced by by many North American metropolises as they seek to repair their infrastructure and rebuild and expand public transportation. Along with the pressure of rising land values and inflating house and condo prices and exorbitant rents these problems are increasing.
One has to go back to the regime of the late Jean Doré and the Montreal Citizens Movement which defeated the legendary conservative nationalist politician Jean Drapeau in 1986 to find as left wing and progressive a mayor as Plante aspires to be. Doré governed for 8 years and eventually became more of a reforming technocrat than a left wing idealist. We shall see how political power and the challenge of meeting Montreal’s growing public transportation and infrastructure needs transforms Ms. Plante and her party. In the meantime bonne chance !