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Scandal-weary Montreal swears in third mayor in eight months

Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum walks away after announcing his resignation during a news conference in Montreal, Quebec, June 18, 2013. Applebaum was arrested at his home Monday morning and was charged with 14 offences including breach of trust and fraud.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters

Montreal's newest mayor has qualities that are likely to endear him to a corruption-weary city.

He is known as colourless and self-effacing. He is promising little more than stability. Most important, neither he nor his borough is known to have been the target of investigations by Quebec's anti-corruption squad.

In short, Laurent Blanchard, the interim mayor of Montreal, may have the low profile and unblemished CV to keep Montreal functioning and spare it further embarrassment.

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On Tuesday, the 60-year-old two-time city councillor was sworn in as mayor of Quebec's major metropolis, occupying a post that has become less a seat of power than a revolving door. He is the third mayor to take over Montreal in less than eight months: his two predecessors were forced out by scandal.

"I have a very simple approach: Integrity, continuity, stability and collaboration," Mr. Blanchard told reporters after he was sworn in. "I don't think Montrealers want more than that for four months."

He takes the reins of city hall until Montrealers go to the polls in November, after beating out his nearest rival by two votes in a secret ballot by city councillors. He will continue the coalition government that is credited with bringing a semblance of co-operation on council.

His election came in the wake of the stunning arrest of interim mayor Michael Applebaum last week on fraud and other corruption-related charges. Mr. Blanchard headed Montreal's executive committee under Mr. Applebaum.

Colleagues describe Mr. Blanchard as a workhorse who's a conciliator, a quick read, and has a wry sense of humour. Montreal borough mayor Réal Ménard, a former MP who has known him for more than 30 years, says he is often at the office on weekends returning constituents' calls.

While few Montrealers would be able to identify Mr. Blanchard if shown his picture, he is untarnished by the allegations of corruption that have stained part of the political class. Now an independent, he was elected under Vision Montréal, and therefore was not allied to the scandal-tainted party of former mayor Gérald Tremblay and Mr. Applebaum, Union Montréal.

"With Laurent Blanchard we have the assurance that we'll have no more nasty surprises to worry about," said Richard Bergeron, leader of another opposition party, Projet Montréal. "Mr. Blanchard is above, really above all suspicion … Montrealers have seen too much in recent times. We needed an absolute guarantee this time, and we have it."

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Mr. Ménard, who is from Vision Montréal, added: "I would be surprised if he has any skeletons in his closet. He's someone who believes in public service and is very disinterested by his personal interest."

Mr. Blanchard's main task is to stay the course until Montrealers elect a mayor Nov. 3. He said now isn't the time to launch major projects, but rather, show "that the city continues to function." Like his predecessor, Mr. Applebaum, he said his top priority will be restoring trust to a population disillusioned by seemingly endless disclosures of corruption.

To win the four-month mayor's prize, Mr. Blanchard beat out council speaker Harout Chitilian 30 votes to 28. City councillor Jane Cowell-Poitras got three votes. Mr. Blanchard announced he is stepping down as head of the executive committee.

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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