Bergeron changes the game

The 2009 municipal election in Montreal has the potential to become the most transformative of any mayoral race in recent memory, an outcome for which Richard Bergeron, the leader of Projet Montréal, should be credited.
It was not long ago that the November elections promised nothing but a staid stumble to the finish line for incumbent Gérard Tremblay. The Mayor looked ready to drift back to power on the backs of an apathetic citizenry, following a soul-crushing campaign centred on competing vows of faster pipe repairs and fewer potholes.
This is no longer the case. Granted, it was the thickening whiff of scandals hanging over city hall that initially opened up the race and cleared the way for former Parti Québécois minister Louise Harel’s dramatic arrival onto the scene. But it is Bergeron’s bold and innovative discourse that has infused the campaign with a burst of fresh energy and new ideas. He has finally offered Montrealers a definitive choice between the shopworn debates and divisions of yesteryear, and a new brand of politics fit for the 21st century.
Tremblay and Harel &- one a federalist Liberal, one a sovereigntist Péquiste, are both career politicians and both offer only the most cosmetic of changes. With Tremblay we maintain the status quo, and a form of managerial incrementalism bereft of vision or coherence. And this is to say nothing of the endemic corruption that has flourished under his watch.
With Harel and her signature thrust to recentralize Montreal’s governing apparatus however, we arrive instead at the status quo ante. We obtain, at the very least, four more years of interminable bureaucratic wrangling of the same merger-demerger variety that has paralysed Montreal for years, and pitted the largely Anglophone suburbs of Montreal against the Francophone majority on the island.
Worse yet, this renewed charge is being led by an ardent nationalist who, in 30 years of living in Montreal, chose never to learn a phrase of English. In short, Harel is one of the most divisive characters to run for mayor in some time.
Rather than break Montreal’s immobility and propel us forward, Harel might make the Tremblay years look visionary by comparison. The same can be inferred from her vacuous policy platform.
Far from proposing bolder transit initiatives than Mayor Tremblay, she criticizes his plans for a metro extension as being overly ambitious, and dismisses city plans for a new tramway network by declaring they are not among her priorities.
“Redémarrer Montréal?” Only if by “forward,” she means “back.”
In truth, what emerges most clearly from a look at the two main contenders is a gnawing sense that we’re mired in old battles. We seem unable to rise anew, to regain a global perspective, to view our beloved Montreal not for what is but what it can and must become.
Enter Bergeron, and the unabashedly idealistic vision of Projet Montreal: an economic revival founded on a green urban revolution, replete with an island-wide tramway network made right here by Bombardier; the holistic re-imagining of our maritime gateway, to restore the tattered links between the city and its river; the democratization of Montreal’s governance structures and the reaffirmation of popular sovereignty; and the list goes on.
What Bergeron represents is nothing less than a paradigmatic break with old mentalities. He speaks of reclaiming our urban spaces from the private automobile, of re-imagining our city on a more human scale, of transforming our city centres into places where families will choose to stay rather than fleeing to the suburbs in search of a higher quality of life.
In his world, sustainable development is not a supplemental consideration included to increase a project’s appeal or “negate” the building of an highway next door. For Bergeron, it is the project, indeed the project of the 21st century, and the revolution whose time has long since come.
Of course, Bergeron remains open to charges of naive idealism, or worse, of being a labelled as nothing more than a dreamer. But with his support polling at an unprecedented 20 per cent and climbing, it would seem that maybe he’s not the only one.


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