The Gazette: Rebuilding the city’s image

I was interviewed by The Gazette’s Peggy Curran this week for an article about leadership in Montreal, and the upcoming municipal election. Here is the link to that article published today:

And here are all the excerpts where I am quoted:

“Strength of character, willingness to exert leadership,” said Martin Bergeron of Réflexion Montréal, a think tank he set up with urban analysts last fall. He said tackling corruption and collusion must be Job 1.

“If we don’t deal with that, we don’t get the trust of citizens. How do you move on with spending on projects if people think you are giving money to crooks?”

Martin Bergeron is a policy analyst who left the Montreal Board of Trade to set up Réflexion Montréal. At 43, with a master’s in public policy from Concordia University, he’s a self-proclaimed “policy wonk,” bursting with ideas about what Montreal needs. Things like restructuring city government and boroughs, wrestling with employee pension funds and finding innovative ways to keep young families in the city without turning the metropolis into a suburb.

“It’s not going to be about cutting ribbons and throwing a Christmas ball. It’s going to be a thankless job.”

Bergeron doesn’t hide the fact that he’d also like to run for municipal office, sooner rather than later, ideally alongside a candidate whose political philosophy coincides with his. For the moment, he’s still waiting to figure out who that person might be.

“Louise Harel cannot be the mayor of Montreal,” said Bergeron, who sees her role as Parti Québécois minister for municipal affairs during the forced merger of Montreal and its suburbs as just one factor destined to keep her out of the mayor’s chair.

“The irony is she is the architect of the new city, but she cannot be mayor,” Bergeron said, citing the 71-year-old Harel’s weak English skills and staunch sovereignist beliefs. “The last thing we need is a divisive mayor that can strongly represent one part of the population, but be polarizing to the other ones.”

His namesake, Projet Montréal’s Richard Bergeron, “has some good ideas, but he’s not a realistic politician.” He mentioned the Projet Montréal leader’s position on a proposed 37-kilometre tramway, which he said his administration would build over five years with help from private backers.

As someone who worked on a tram study during his years at the Board of Trade, Bergeron said the claim is unrealistic. “He could knock on all the doors he wants. It would not work. He tends to do that with a lot of projects. They make sense in his mind.”

Of Coderre, “he has at least one thing going for him: he wants the job!” Bergeron said. “Other than that, we know so little about what he intends to do that it is hard to judge. I guess we will have to wait to see.”

Bergeron sees previous political experience as an asset, but not a prerequisite. “Michael Bloomberg, for example, had never done politics before. Yet he is a great and strong leader for New York and no one would dare not listen to him.”

For Bergeron, it’s imperative that the next mayor find a way to push harder for Montreal’s concerns, which are often ignored by federal and provincial governments that don’t see political gains in a region where voting patterns have been fairly predictable.

“We are a city of 1.9 million people and sometimes it feels like our priorities are treated not as important as Laval or Quebec City,” Bergeron said. “It’s not enough to send a wish list and then wait for results.”

Still, Bergeron said the next mayor won’t have any clout — in Ottawa, Quebec or with Montreal residents — until people believe he or she is serious about cleaning up the city’s act.

“You’d like to think we wouldn’t have to say: ‘We need elected officials that have ethics.’

Duh. That ought to be a prerequisite and you don’t even have to discuss it. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. If we don’t get the trust of the population, we cannot go forward with major reforms.”

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