Vision Montreal: [Insert leader here]

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Well, it’s official. Benoît Labonté is stepping aside as leader of Vision Montreal so that former PQ minister Louise Harel can run in his place for mayor of Montreal.

I must say I’m surprised by this move. Not only does Labonté have a lot of ambition, but he’s made his campaign for mayor all about him. The Vision Montreal website still links to his blog, which has his face plastered all over it and is now useless as a campaign website (which makes his assertion that his cause “isn’t personal” absurd to the point of late-night comedy). They’ll replace it by one from Louise Harel (who will hopefully hire Labonté’s web designers instead of sticking with her current blog).

I could criticize Harel on many points. She was the person who gave us the whole megacity disaster (fortunately for her, residents of Hampstead and Beaconsfield don’t vote for Montreal’s mayor), and she wants us to just forget all that, saying “there’s no question of rekindling the debate.” She’s an evil sovereignist who spent most of her political career in Quebec City and can barely string three words together in English. And she shares Labonté’s habit of using lots of words that say nothing, not to mention his lack of humility.

But what gets me most is how matter-of-fact this all is. Five months before an election that Labonté has been preparing for more than a year, they have a meeting and just replace the leader.

The ease by which this happened reflects something I wrote about with Labonté in April: He and his party have no platform.

You can see it in Harel’s press release, just like in Vision Montreal’s “Manifesto”. There’s lots of talk of “true political and administrative leadership and attention to priorities,” but no discussion of what those priorities actually are. The only thing that ties Labonté, Harel and Vision Montreal together seems to be the only point of the platform so far: A dislike of Gérald Tremblay.

Actually, to be fair, there’s one other platform point hidden among the empty calories of text about “visionary leadership” and “bold vision”: a desire for a radical change to the borough system and more centralized power at City Hall. It’s something Labonté has supported and something Harel instituted with municipal mergers (though her bill created the mess in the first place).

But that still leaves a lot of blank that can be filled in by almost anything (provided it can be sold as bold and audacious) before November. They could fill it with Projet Montréal’s trams and greenery if they go through with a merger, as Harel hinted at. But I’d like to think that Richard Bergeron is smart enough not to tie his reputation to this sinking ship.

In the end, this probably says more about Vision Montreal and our city’s politics than it does any individual player. The parties can’t be pigeonholed like they can on the provincial and federal levels (Conservatives/ADQ xenophobic conservatives who want to dismantle the government piece by piece, NDP/Québec solidaire crazy leftists who want to pour even more tax money into inefficient black holes, BQ/PQ left-wing separatists who talk radical to get elected and then soften up when they get into power, Greens the environment nuts, and the Liberals the centre-left lesser of many evils who have the experience to run government and the experience to exploit their offices). We don’t really know what separates Union Montreal and Vision Montreal other than who’s leading them.

Like with Labonté, I’m willing to give Harel the benefit of the doubt, and look forward to reading her platform if eventually it comes out.

But right now it’s hard not to see the party of Pierre Bourque as a blank cheque to be cashed in by naive, ambitious politicians who want to parachute in and carpetbag their way into power based solely on their personal, vastly overestimated popularity combined with a lot of empty words from rejected Obama speechwriters.

UPDATE: Le Devoir agrees with me, asking why the left-wing Harel is uniting with the pro-business Labonté.

16 thoughts on “Vision Montreal: [Insert leader here]

  1. Amanda

    I was rooting for Projet Montreal all along, but hearing that Bergeron was apparently the first one to try to court Harel makes me sick to my stomach. How could he be such a sell-out? Labonté pulling this kind of stunt is no big surprise but I had higher hopes for PM.

    Reply
  2. Heather

    It’s a sad state of affairs in Canadian politics in general – parties without platforms. The Liberals are touting themselves as essentially “We’re not the conservative and we’ll do whatever the country wants” and now Vision Montreal is touting itself as “not Gerald Tremblay as your mayor.” Just lovely.

    I really don’t see how Harel can think the megacity merger is going to be forgotten. worth noting is that ORIGINALLY she proposed merging ALL the suburbs into the city – all the way up to St. Jerome. Clearly she has no grasp of what her constituents actually need from a municipal government.

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  3. Jean Naimard

    Fagstein,

    I never expected to read such aberrant rhodesian claptrap coming from you. You really show that, no matter what, the english are genetically not disposed towards understanding other cultures.

    “evil separatist”, “megamerger fiasco”. Those are the words of a true west-island rhodesian. Except for Montréal-Est, all the cities who voted to demerge have a majority of english people, proving that the english could not stomach to live in a french city.

    The real fiasco was the sycophantic de-mergers who were solely implemented to please the voter base of the Québec liberals: the english, because it introduced the much-dreaded “taxation without representation” for which the english voted for anyways, proving that they’d rather be taxed without representation than live in a french city.

    Of course, the true purpose of the forced mergers was to have the rich suburbs pay their fair share of taxes; the separate municipalities are solely there to allow for a lower tax rate so the more expensive houses would comparatively pay less taxes.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I was kidding about the “evil separatist” part.

      As for the mergers, you provide your own counterexample here. And there were plenty of other former cities who voted in favour of demerger (Anjou, for example), but simply didn’t have enough turnout for it to take effect. And Montreal wasn’t the only city this happened in. Quebec and Longueuil both had strong demerger votes, and I hardly think it’s because they didn’t want to live in French cities.

      Reply
  4. Jimmy Zoubris

    Tremblay could not have wished for a better gift. The election (do not believe the polls) is his and barring another scandal in which someone actually goes to jail), he will win quite easily.
    People were flocking to Labonte because there was an anybody but Tremblay smell in the air…now they will hold their noses and vote to keep Harel out of power. Tremblay will win the the merged boroughs and split the rest of Montreal and he will serve his 3rd term. Hopefully Project Montreal can win more than the 1 seat they have. Whether we agree with them or not, they have some good ideas and despite Bergeron’s political blunder of courting Harel, we need another voice in City Hall.

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  5. Jean Naimard

    The demerger votes in Longueuil were cast in the snob cities of Boucherville, Chien-Bruno, Brossard and Chien-Lambert who did not want their classy environment smeared by ugly longueuil.

    And, speaking of claptrap, The Gazoo really outdid itself this time:
    http://www.montrealgazette.com/opinion/Louise+Harel+mayor+earnestly+hope/1660570/story.html
    It’s no wonder that no one dare sign that utter piece of trashy journalism that one could only have expected to come from Québécor or Galganov. This has to ran amongst the worst press output in History after The Gazoo instigated the riots that burned-down the parliament 160 years ago.

    I will add that, had the West-Island rhodesians not demerged themselves, it could have been very possible to have an english mayor for Montréal.

    In Québec, municipal politics are totally dissociated with provincial politics; I would have welcomed Louise Harel at the provincial level, but at the municipal level, it does not mean anything that she is a rabid separatist. What is important is that she would be associated with Pierre Bourque’s party, and if there ever was a Montréal party based on utter cluelesness and stupid actions, it has to be Vision Montréal, and that’s just because Drapeau’s civic party is dead and buried.

    No way in hell I’m going to vote for her, because of the retinue of clueless drones that make up that party.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I agree that her support of Quebec sovereignty is the source of a bit too much attention from anglophones and their media. But I don’t think it’s completely irrelevant either. More importantly, her support of other PQ policies (like tougher language laws) are very relevant to such a position.

      The basic point of my post comes back here: We don’t know anything about Vision Montreal or Harel as a municipal politician. All we know about her is that she used to be a PQ minister and she instituted municipal mergers against the wishes of suburban municipalities (and, in most cases, their citizens). If she wants us to judge her on something else, she has to put something else forward.

      Reply
  6. Jean Naimard

    I agree that her support of Quebec sovereignty is the source of a bit too much attention from anglophones and their media

    Then stop bunching your bobettes about it! There is no referendum in sight, so you can concentrate on more relevant poutines such as the liberal corruption in the Montréal city council and in parliament.

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  7. lise

    The concern many of us have is that the municipal issues that so need our attention and which should be the motivation behind how people vote come november, will be ignored in favour of old debates that are much less relevant to us Montrealers when it comes to municipal issues.

    From the perspective of a political organizer, Harel’s arrival makes it nearly impossible to talk about the real issues, or to ‘stay on message.’ We’ve been witnessing people and the media reacting, not to the content of what parties stand for and represent, or even their track record, but instead judging them on how they reacted to this political tsunami that is Harel’s protracted diva-esque arrival on the municipal scene.

    Our beloved City has once again been reduced to a play-thing for competing provincial parties and their interests. One reason why Harel could not take up Bergeron’s challenge and endorse Projet Montreal’s Platform is because both the PQ and the Libs are fightng over the votes in the swing ridings of Montreal’s suburbs and outlying boroughs, fighting for the votes of people who commute by car into the city on the highways that Projet Montreal does not support the construction or reconstruction of. For some time now the move in modern cities has been to get rid of these highways that funnel cars and pollution into the downtown core. I believe Montreal would have as well if it wasn’t for the competing interests of our provincial parties and their central battlehorse that is the National Question.

    For example, Harel will not counter Tremblay’s plans for Notre-Dame boul. even though it would be bad for Montreal, and particularly so for her former riding of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. She could not get away with opposing the planned reconstruction of the Turcotte speghetti highway nightmare either, nor could she support the initiative of applying tolls equivalent to the cost of a metro ticket on the bridges onto the island… she is no different than Tremblay (ex-Liberal Minister) when it comes to these issues. It would even be a struggle for her politically to support more express bus routes because that leaves less space on the roads for the commuting car. Same thing goes for the sacrifice of parking spaces to build additional bike lanes that are so needed to ensure safety and encourage more people to commute by bicycle.

    Bergeron gave her a chance to show that she was in it for Montreal, in it as a progressive individual and not as an extension of the interests of her provincial party. Bergeron forced her to show her hand early in the game, and for that Montrealers should be greatful. Bergeron’s offer also forced the hand of Vision Montreal which was teetering on the verge of irrelevance, an empty shell running off the fumes of those nostalgic for the times of its founde, Pierre Bourque. When it comes to policy and small ‘v’ vision, Labonté is no different than Tremblay, the reason he left Union was due to ego conflicts with his boss and political opportunism, the same opportunism that attracted Harel, Vision offered an empty shell, a vehicle with name recognition tied to nostalgia, and some sitting councilors. Name recognition goes a very long way in municipal politics, as does nostalgia during an economic downturn.

    They, Tremblay and Harel, will defend themselves by saying that they are all about the environment and point to the plans for extending the metro lines into some suburds, but again this is more about winning votes for their respective provincial political parties than it is for the good of the City: first of all because metros are far from being the most efficient way to improve public transit into the suburbs, light rail is, (better bus routes with more eco-friendly buses would also be more efficient and go along way to improving the currently dismal situation). Secondly, look at what has happened with the metro extension into Laval: not only did it cost a large fortune (that Laval did not even want to contribute its share to), but it has also meant that the already crowded metro cars are now next to impossible to squeeze onto once the lavallois take all the space (and good on them for taking the metro!) leaving those who are further along the line discouraged from taking the metro. Adding more cars, greater frequency, to the metro line would have been a key element of any plan to extend the metro but Tremblay’s administration appears incapable of properly managing a project.

    The train from the West has been a total disaster despite the recent promises and attempts to improve it; proving that even when his administration tries to do something right, it goes wrong.

    One reason the Plateau voted so strongly for a very young Projet Montreal in 2005 was that they understood that more of the same, that is Union or Vision, was not going to make a difference. Plateau residents aren’t anti-car, but pro-public transit and pro-bike and pro-pedestrian, not because it is some kind of green ideology but because it makes sense! It has been proven in the most livable and amazing cities around the world; it is time to make cities about the people who live in them, about the businesses that flourish in them, and not about the all mighty car. One stat that resonates with many on the Plateau is that over 85% of all traffic on their streets is thru-traffic; if the people in those cars driving in from neighbourhoods far and near had that kind of traffic speeding through their streets, they too would want to take measures to slow it down and offer more interesting, more efficient, and more sustainable alternatives.

    What is scariest about Harel, is not her as a person (far too much fear mongering going round about that), but the effect her arrival is having, distracting us from all the hard work that is being done to build and offer up a true alternative to the kind of politics practiced by the current administration and the empty shell that is its Official opposition.

    Bergeron did what he thought was the best thing in a bad situation: He tried to salvage the ideas and the hard work of his party’s membership and many community organizations that went into putting together an impressive and detailed platform and nominating candidates, both done democratically. It was most likely not an easy decision, but one a leader has to make at the cost of the personal sacrifice of stepping down as mayoral candidate. He never offered to hand Harel the Party, the party after all belongs to its members. It has never been about personal glory but about the ideas, can we say that about any other politician these days?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Though I don’t dispute most of what you’re saying, I will clarify that the AMT is run by the Quebec government, not the city of Montreal. You can’t really blame Tremblay for its failures.

      Reply
  8. Nigel

    “Adding more cars, greater frequency, to the metro line would have been a key element of any plan to extend the metro,” says Lise. Absolutely! We should start counting wasted money (PR campaigns, etc,) in lost Metro cars.

    I’m not sure Bergeron’s move was that calculated or clever. It’s going to be harder for PM to break out of the Plateau now.

    Fagstein is wrong about just one thing: the Liberals initiated just about everything the Tories are now doing; that includes gutting the CBC and letting down expats abroad. The Liberals are just hypocrites who talk centre-left to get elected, then reveal their true Tory colours.

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  9. Richard Montgomery

    My God ! What Next ?

    Louise Harel, Mayor Of Montreal ? The thought of it is frightening to say the least

    Please Mme Harel, take your retirement, along with Parizeau, Landry and company

    A staunch seperatist as Mayor of Montreal ?, the one who rammed the fusions down our throats and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions, and she has the audacity to pretend that she can fix everything ?

    I’m losing the will to live !

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  10. Jean Naimard

    A staunch seperatist as Mayor of Montreal ?,

    Where in the Bible is it written that the mayor of Montréal shall be a federalist??? Oh, it’s true, for rhodesians, non-WASPS are not qualified for anything.

    the one who rammed the fusions down our throats and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions,

    Correction: she cost some taxpayers the money they avoided paying because they lived in a little separate world where the tax rates were lower so their higher-valued homes would not generate as much tax revenues, yet where the house values were propped-up because of the proximity of the great city.
    Do you really think your shack in Beaconsfield would be worth as much if Montréal just wasn’t there and Beaconsfield was up in the boondocks???

    and she has the audacity to pretend that she can fix everything ?

    Well, yes, she could very well fix the demerger mess, and properly centralize everything. No more boroughs with their useless little peacock-mayors and douchebaggy shenanigans, just ONE city council for everyone, and a city council with only 50 councillors.

    Reply
  11. Julien Feldman

    The 1950s sentiment of Wasp “rhodesians” which is suggests some sort of bi-cultural competition, recalls Jean Drapeau’s contrary and more realistic view of the city (and his secret to electoral success), as quoted in “Drapeau,” Brian McKenna’s biography of the ex-mayor from the early 80s (which was my bible as a reporter on municipal politics). McKenna wrote:

    ” ‘If you don’t understand that Montreal is a city of minorities,” Drapeau observes, “then you don’t understand anything about Montreal.”

    That holds as true today as it did 20, 50, 100 or even 150 years ago. Montreal is and will remain a vibrant multi-cultural city, and candidates should be talking about how they relate to this historical/future social focus amidst all the current talk of traffic calming, merger/demergers, Metro v. light rail, Turcot interchanges, parking meters, etc.

    The MCM of old was endlessly teased about its plan for “neighbourhood Soviets” which became the Paris-style “arrondissements” we have today, but in the current campaign, there seems to be a certain amnesia over why boroughs (vs big central government) were thought to be the key to improving the social fabric of our neighbourhhods, especially citizens’ participation and interaction with local government which often defines our quality of life. Well, it was felt that specialization would allow decentralized borough administrations to cater to local multi-cultural differences of culture and language, while being small enough to enable participation.

    That’s why, I predict the election will be a referendum on the future of Montreal’s historical multiculturalism – and by extension, a vigorous debate concerning the future of the borough system – and this is civic debate Harel first set out to create last March.

    http://www.westislandchronicle.com/article-314193-Montreal-multicultural-leaders-denounce-Louise-Harel.html

    Harel may feel boroughs ought to be be weaker (in order to avoid the creation “ethnic” enclaves), whereas Tremblay has no choice but to defend the current decentralization – and multiculturalism. In publicly associating itself with Harel, hower, Projet may have inadvertently saddled itself with Harel’s borough policy. No matter, the campaign is young, with plenty of time for each party to define a clear position on borough policy AND and multiculturalism.

    The best idea is Dimitri Roussopoulos’ proposal to have the provincial government to entrench the Citizens’ Charter into the City Charter itself. Having all parties buy into what has become a global movement to guarantee reponsive government would finally give it some teeth!

    Some excerpts on elections past, from McKenna’s “Drapeau”…

    p.128
    (re: 1960) “Recounts Saulnier: “It was a case of maladjustment and
    misunderstanding among a group of immature political figures and I
    include myself, for today, there are things that I did that I would
    not do now. I know I had the influence with both of them to prevent
    the split. I did not do it.”

    p.131
    (re: 1960) “By the time the campaign got rolling, Drapeau took out the
    brass knuckles. He urged Montrealers “in the interests of public
    health” to crush the Civic Action League, which he described as a
    ‘pseudo-reform movement made up of DesMarais’ relatives and
    suppliers.’ ”

    p.132
    (re: 1960) “…Drapeau proposed to swallow the suburbs…and to turn
    the pot-pourri of municipal governments into “one island, one city,”
    with Montreal being the seat of power.”

    p.330
    Drapeau watched the wars within the MCM with relish, seeing echoes of
    the factionalism which had divided and unltimately destroyed the Civic
    Action League during the 1950s, but he was nonetheless concerned about
    the PQ’s support for the MCM.”

    p.334
    (re: 1978) The divisions within the MCM had broken into the open once
    again following the 1976 provincial election. In April 1977,
    councillors Auf der Maur and Keaton had formally resigned and taken
    many of the moderates with them. Now, joined by a handful of
    disenchanted Drapeau supporters and a group of urban plannersa,
    architects and other professionals frustrated with the extremism of
    the MCM, they formed a new municipal party.”

    P.336
    (re: 1978) ” ‘If you don’t understand that Montreal is a city of minorities,”
    Drapeau observes, “them you don’t understand anything about Montreal.”

    P.338
    (re: 1978) “All the mayor’s private polls showed that his calculations
    about the elections were working out. The MCM and the MAG, at each
    other’s throats, were dividing the opposition vote. While the two
    opposition parties attempted to canvass door-to-door, the Civic Party
    conducted much of its campaign by phone, and were especially vitriolic
    about the MCM, often telling callers a vote for the MCM was a vote for
    the Communist Party.”

    P.339
    (re: 1978) “If the opposition had been united, the final results
    suggested they would have won fourteen seats. Divided they won only
    two.”

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  12. lise

    Here is a good article just published by Aubin in the Gazette, “Projet Montréal’s Platform Deserves a Look.” It echoes what I was explaining in my post above; I urge you to give it a read if you haven’t already: http://www2.canada.com/montrealgazette/features/viewpoints/story.html?id=8459a0e5-b6b6-4925-9a90-facb382093d8&p=1
    It also touches on the provincial govs control over issues/jurisdictions that are crucial to Montreal’s development; in the case of the article, the CMM, and in the case of our exchange, the AMT. The City needs to have a much greater say in the mandates, deliberations and decisions of these bodies (amongst others) if this City is to survive current and future challenges. Being the political plaything of provincial political parties/governments and the reduction of political debate to old stale provincial debates is a serious threat to the future of Montreal and should be a major consideration in people’s voting behaviour come November’s election (which is of course exacerbated by the current situation of having a Liberal lackey for a Mayor and a PQ lackey as leader of the Official Opposition).

    Reply
  13. Jean Naimard

    The 1950s sentiment of Wasp “rhodesians” which is suggests some sort of bi-cultural competition, recalls Jean Drapeau’s contrary and more realistic view of the city (and his secret to electoral success), as quoted in “Drapeau,” Brian McKenna’s biography of the ex-mayor from the early 80s (which was my bible as a reporter on municipal politics). McKenna wrote:
    ” ‘If you don’t understand that Montreal is a city of minorities,” Drapeau observes, “then you don’t understand anything about Montreal.

    Divide and rule so no single group can expect to be a majority.
    Except the french. But if they are distracted by petty stuff (Habs, anyone???), they won’t think about their real power… This has been the liberals’ way of doing thing for generations…
    Multiculturalism has been used to minorize the french by equating them to [insert any immigrant ethnic group here] who came here much later; the understated message is that everyone should speak white (because the english will never demean themselves by learning french).

    That holds as true today as it did 20, 50, 100 or even 150 years ago. Montreal is and will remain a vibrant multi-cultural city,

    It may be so, but like Paris, Montréal is first and foremost french, no matter how this hurts your rhodesian superiority complex.
    I just stopped earlier tonight at a tamil*-run dépanneur in Park-Extension to buy a bag of chips. I had no problem being served in french. Suddenly, the guy with the terrific tan behind the counter is no longer a tool to disappear us, but just another Québécois.
    Judge Sewell must be spinning in his grave…

    and candidates should be talking about how they relate to this historical/future social focus amidst all the current talk of traffic calming, merger/demergers, Metro v. light rail, Turcot interchanges, parking meters, etc.

    The liberals in Québec must be extremely pleased! The controversy will eclipse the important issues, like building highways to drain more life out of Montréal, and not investing enough in public transportation.

    That’s why, I predict the election will be a referendum on the future of Montreal’s historical multiculturalism – and by extension, a vigorous debate concerning the future of the borough system – and this is civic debate Harel first set out to create last March.
    http://www.westislandchronicle.com/article-314193-Montreal-multicultural-leaders-denounce-Louise-Harel.html

    What a crock of pure drivel! But it’s understandable, it’s from the Chronicle, the acme of rhodesian groupthink.

    More than a dozen leaders from Montreal’s ethnic and multicultural communities have joined Union Montreal city councillor Marvin Rotrand in denouncing statements made last week by former PQ cabinet minister Louise Harel, which were "on the fringe of intelorance," according to the coalition’s members.

    Those  “leaders” from ethnic and multicultural communities are yet more tools to draw the immigrants to the english side. Of course, they gonna refuse Louse Harel: she wants them to be french! Oh! The humanity!!!

    Harel may feel boroughs ought to be be weaker (in order to avoid the creation “ethnic” enclaves),

    We certainly don’t want little ghettoes. Still more "divide and rule" so the occult interest can do their shady dealings (Water meter contracts, condo developments in Pointe-Aux-Trembles) unbothered by public scrutiny that is distracted by petty ghetto squablings and the Just for Jazz festivals.
    With “une île, une ville” and a centralized administration, there will be far less room for the petty kings of suburbia, real or imagined (the boroughs), and much less players for shady dealings. It’s much harder to bribe one general manager than two or three out of a dozen.
    À qui profite le crime? Those big players (Desmarais) that play in the background who would be wiped away if the current overbloated administrative structure would be slashed.
     
    * Why can’t they block the Turcot instead of the Gardiner, for a change??? — oh sorry, it’s already blocked all the time…

    Reply

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