Montreal city hall has been rocked by scandals and resignations, but that hasn’t stopped a number of people from stepping forward to run for mayor in the municipal election coming in November.
A former MP, two local political leaders and a blogger are already vying to take over Montreal’s top job, eyeing the Nov. 3 contest as a unique opportunity to rebuild the troubled municipal government.
Unlike most Canadian cities, Montreal’s mayor and city council belong to political parties. Along with the established parties on council, a number of new entities are expected to form before the next election takes place.
Following months of intense speculation that he was interested in moving to municipal politics, long-time federal MP Denis Coderre recently announced that he is a candidate for mayor.
“I think the message we have to send today is that Montreal is bigger than only a few individuals,” Mr. Coderre said on Monday.
A former immigration minister, Mr. Coderre represented a working-class riding in Montreal’s north end for more than 15 years as an MP, resigning on June 2 to run for mayor.
“This is a sad day for Montreal and nobody is happy about this, but we have an alternative,” he said, introducing eight elected officials that are joining his party.
The majority of Mr. Coderre’s new candidates fled Union Montreal, the once dominant political force in the city that imploded after former Mayor Gérald Tremblay resigned in November.
THE OPPOSITION LEADERS
In a repeat of the last election, opposition leader Louise Harel will head her Vision Montreal party in November.
A former Parti Québécois minister, Ms. Harel oversaw the controversial forced mergers of many of Quebec’s cities in 2002, including Montreal.
Her party has seen a number of defections over the past year – a not uncommon occurrence in Montreal politics.
Project Montreal, the third-place party that has long campaigned on a platform dominated by transparency and public transit, will also return under leader Richard Bergeron.
Stepping into the maelstrom on Monday, lawyer and blogger Mélanie Joly announced her candidacy for mayor from the city’s Old Port.
“We’re the new face of politics in Quebec, maybe we aren’t known, but we need new blood to change this city,” Ms. Joly said.
“I do not accept seeing the city I love dragged into contempt, stagnation and corruption,” she said.
Ms. Joly highlighted her experience as a businesswoman who turned around a struggling firm. She also helped found a number of Montreal-area think tanks.
The Huffington Post blogger said she wants to move beyond the fights that have dominated Montreal.
Her mantra is simple: “Getting the right services at the best cost.”
Economist Marcel Côté is widely thought to be mulling a run, with a number of candidates expected to join the race by November.
The Harper government is distancing itself from a former Conservative staffer who was at the heart of the party’s recent efforts to win a first seat on Montreal Island, and who was arrested on corruption charges as part of the latest police sweep in Quebec.
Under opposition grilling in the House, Heritage Minister James Moore said his former minister staffer, Saulie Zajdel, was arrested in relation to “municipal matters, and not federal ones.”
“If in his municipal career ... he in any way broke the law, he should have the book thrown at him,” Mr. Moore said.
A former city councillor in Montreal, Mr. Zajdel was the Conservative candidate in the 2011 election in the Montreal riding of Mount Royal, finishing 2,300 votes behind the incumbent, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler. Five months later, Mr. Zajdel was hired to work for Mr. Moore’s office in Montreal to act “a liaison between the Government and the city’s cultural communities.”
The contract lasted from October, 2011 to March, 2012, a period in which Mr. Zajdel was seen to be acting as a “shadow MP” in the riding that has long been targeted by the Conservative Party, given its strong Jewish community. Mr. Cotler complained at the time that the Conservatives were spreading rumours that he was about to resign and force a by-election in the riding, and that Mr. Zajdel was using his taxpayer-funded position to prepare a second campaign in the riding. However, Mr. Zajdel left Mr. Moore’s office when his position inside the government became the subject of much media scrutiny.
Mr. Zajdel, a former city councillor in Montreal, was charged on Monday with five counts of breach of trust, fraud and corruption. According to Quebec’s anti-corruption unit, the charges against Mr. Zajdel are linked to allegations of bribery in relation to real estate deals in 2007 and 2008.
The opposition parties have been trying for months to highlight the links between the Conservative Party and members of Montreal’s embattled political class. During Monday’s Question Period, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said that “the entire Conservative network has been tarnished by the arrest of one of their star candidates.”
In a statement on Monday, Mr. Cotler refused to weigh in Mr. Zajdel’s case, stating “everyone benefits from the presumption of innocence and thus I have no comment while the police investigation and related process in this matter are ongoing.”