A low-profile but high-powered economist is to enter the race for mayor of Montreal in what could shape up as a new alliance of federalist and sovereigntist forces in the city.
Marcel Côté, though far from a household name, has built respect in the business community as a pragmatist with an insider's grasp of Montreal's ills. He co-founded a major Montreal consulting firm and had worked behind the scenes in both federal and provincial politics.
His anticipated arrival, as Montreal struggles through a period of unprecedented turmoil, poses a direct challenge to the candidacy of former Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who joined the mayor's contest in May.
The 70-year-old Mr. Côté is expected to announce Wednesday he will head a new coalition that would include former Parti Québécois cabinet minister Louise Harel, who said Tuesday she was withdrawing her mayoralty bid to back Mr. Côté.
They would join forces to bridge Montreal's linguistic divide by seeking support from both the city's traditionally anglophone west end and francophone east end. The union underscores a political reality in Montreal – no party can win city hall without support from both language groups.
"[Mr. Côté] can rally east and west, and off the top, that is a good point in his favour," Ms. Harel told a news conference. "Whether federalist or sovereigntist – I am sovereigntist, Mr. Côté is federalist … we need to talk about Montreal first," Ms. Harel told an interviewer.
As a former Péquiste cabinet minister, Ms. Harel spearheaded forced municipal mergers that were highly unpopular in predominantly English-speaking towns. Her political past became a liability among anglophones, who snubbed her when she ran for mayor in 2009. Ms. Harel admitted as much on Tuesday, calling her political past a handicap. She will stay on as leader of her Vision Montréal party and seek a seat on council.
Mr. Côté was an adviser to both Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney and Quebec Liberal premier Robert Bourassa. He would become the fourth candidate in a mayoralty race that also includes city hall opposition leader Richard Bergeron and Montreal lawyer Mélanie Joly. Montrealers go to the polls in November.