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Montreal’s new mayor defies stereotyping of Quebec politics

Michael Applebaum (L) smiles with his wife Merle (R) following his swearing-in ceremony to become Montreal's interim mayor in Montreal, Quebec, November 19, 2012.

Reuters

It's Day Two of the administration of Montreal's first Jewish anglophone mayor, and the city seems to still be standing. Michael Applebaum was sworn in on Monday after being elected interim mayor on Friday by his fellow councillors, the majority of whom are francophone, and some of whom are noted separatists. In many ways, Mr. Applebaum's ascension couldn't have come at a better moment.

For one thing, Mr. Applebaum's election is a welcome reminder that Montreal, currently embroiled in the grotesque corruption scandal that drove Gérald Tremblay from the mayor's office on Nov. 5, is modern and diverse enough to get past Quebec's often petty politics of language and search for meaningful ways to repair itself. Mr. Applebaum is the right person for the job: He is an experienced, independent, fluently bilingual councillor who has vowed to build bridges and repair the city's shattered reputation.

Just as importantly, Mr. Applebaum has arrived in the wake of a provincial general election that saw divisive language politics rear their ugly head once again; he serves as a corrective to baser political instincts. As well, his presence in so prominent a position will give some small comfort to Montreal's aging and beleaguered anglophone community, which is never more ignored than it is when the Parti Québécois is in power.

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Some will point out that politicians, when obliged to pick a colleague as interim leader, usually give the job to someone they think has no chance of winning a general election. And Mr. Applebaum has vowed not to run for mayor when the current term is over in just under a year. That may be so, but it doesn't take away from the larger significance of the moment.

Mr. Applebaum joins a pantheon of mayors who have defied stereotype and changed Canadian politics, from Glen Murray in Winnipeg, who in 1998 became the first openly gay mayor of a North American city, to Naheed Nenshi of Calgary, the first Muslim mayor of a major Canadian city. In becoming mayor of Montreal, Mr. Applebaum has shown the rest of Canada that there is much more to Quebec than any convenient stereotype.

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