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Lysiane Gagnon

Montreal’s new mayor is a breath of fresh air Add to ...

For the first time in a century, Montreal has an anglophone mayor – and for the first time ever, a Jewish mayor.

This is a welcome development in a city that has been largely developed by anglophones and where the Jewish community has played such an important role. It could signal a crack in the glass ceiling that traditionally prevented non-French Canadians from reaching Quebec’s highest political offices.

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What’s more, Michael Applebaum was elected as interim mayor by city councillors thanks to the support of two opposition parties led by francophone sovereigntists, including Louise Harel, a former Parti Québécois minister. Friday’s election followed the recent resignation of former mayor Gérald Tremblay, a year before the next scheduled municipal election.

Mr. Applebaum, 49, is a former real estate agent who speaks French fluently, albeit with a colloquial accent – like former federal NDP leader Jack Layton, he learned the language on the streets. He faces the daunting task of reviving a city traumatized by revelations of deep-seated corruption within its administration and the dramatic resignation of Mr. Tremblay.

“I promise to erase this stain upon our city,” he told Montrealers, “and to give you back your city.”

Mr. Applebaum, a long-standing city councillor who was appointed last year as head of the executive committee, played his cards well: He resigned from Union Montreal, Mr. Tremblay’s ruling party, announced he would sit as an independent and offered the two opposition parties the chance to form a coalition, which would give them five of the 11 seats on the executive committee.

His election was greeted with widespread relief and satisfaction. Even on Twitter, home to no small number of xenophobes and anti-Semites, it was hard to find a nasty comment about city hall being taken over by a “juif anglophone.”

Mr. Applebaum will bring a breath of fresh air. For instance, the executive committee’s meetings, long held behind closed doors, are to be opened to the public and broadcast on the Internet. The mayor intends to work with the provincial government to prevent corruption and recover “stolen money” lost to Mafia-linked practices. (For years, Montreal paid 20 to 30 per cent more than Toronto or Quebec City for equivalent public infrastructure.)

His coalition administration, as well as the crumbling of Union Montreal, might pave the way for another development: a loosening of the party system that Gazette columnist Henry Aubin has described as “a cancer on cities.” As Mr. Aubin notes, these parties make a mockery of democracy. Grassroots members have no say in the decisions; the parties serve mostly as vehicles for collecting money (legal or illegal) to finance election campaigns.

Mr. Applebaum has vowed not to run in the next mayoral election. So will members of his executive committee, to ensure that the new administration has full freedom of movement to tackle the huge problems ahead without being hampered by electoral considerations.

But if Mr. Applebaum, who’s known as an efficient city official, manages to inject new life into Montreal, who can say there won’t be a groundswell movement for his candidacy in next year’s mayoral race?

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