After spending his adult life working behind the scenes to "build successes," Marcel Côté has stepped out of the shadows to take on what might be his most challenging case to date: Turning around the city of Montreal.
Mr. Côté, an éminence grise known for his vast network of contacts, blunt opinions and ardent federalist views, says he is joining the race for mayor to give Montrealers back a city sapped by scandal.
"One of the reasons I'm in politics is that we were somewhat saddened and ashamed" by Montreal's corruption crises, Mr. Côté said in an interview after announcing his candidacy. "We said, 'It's about time we get our act together.'"
Mr. Côté, a 70-year-old, U.S.-trained economist, is leading a newly minted coalition of city councillors of diverse political stripes. The alliance unites well-entrenched councillors from both the English- and French-speaking communities of Montreal and poses a challenge to the mayoralty bid of Liberal MP Denis Coderre.
While the pragmatic and analytical Mr. Côté may lack Mr. Coderre's populist appeal – Mr. Côté is an establishment figure who's independently wealthy – he brings substantial credentials and deep roots in Montreal to the table.
He was founding partner of consulting giant Secor Group (sold last year to KPMG group), one of the largest management consulting firms in Canada. His civic engagement includes stints as president of the Montreal YMCA Foundation, as well as involvement in the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and other cultural groups.
He is the author of five books, including one whose preface was written by urban-affairs guru Jane Jacobs. Perhaps his best-known work was a 1995 book co-written with David Johnston, now the governor general, on the cost of Quebec sovereignty. In it, Mr. Côté predicted separation would spark a currency collapse, runaway inflation, soaring interest rates, crushing debt and the flight of capital and anglophones.
"The separation of Quebec, if it ever occurs, would not take place in four simple movements like a Haydn symphony; there would not be any beautiful music at all," he wrote.
Over and over during his campaign launch on Wednesday, Mr. Côté switched between French and English and repeatedly invoked Montreal's linguistic and cultural diversity as among the city's strongest assets. He noted that more than a third of the city speaks three languages or more.
"Montreal is unique because of the way French and English mingle together. It attracts smart people and it's one of the most creative cities in North America," Mr. Côté said in the interview. "The paradox is that it has a weak economy," he added. "The new economy hasn't developed in Montreal to the point where the city is as wealthy as it should be."
Mr. Côté lives downtown and mainly walks and uses Bixi, the bike-share system, to get around.
Mr. Côté is closely allied with Quebec Inc. He counselled major Canadian firms including SNC-Lavalin and Domtar. He has worked as adviser to former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa, and helped forge a Quebec coalition to back the North American free-trade agreement.
The announcement of the Coalition pour Montréal is seen as a historic departure for the city, whose rigid party system has been held responsible for partisan bickering and strict adherence to party positions normally associated with Ottawa or provincial legislatures. The new coalition includes members of the party headed by Louise Harel, a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister.
"I am particularly proud to have assembled a coalition around a pragmatic agenda for our city, a city that Montrealers want to reclaim," Mr. Côté said in a statement at his launch, which was held in a cultural building on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the symbolic dividing line between the traditionally English- and French-speaking parts of the city.