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A city’s sad tale: Montreal out-scandals T.O.

It's a twisted contest between The Globe's Montreal bureau and the Toronto newsroom: Who gets the front page with the most insanely crazy municipal politics? So on Monday Montreal came from behind and won. Hands down.

News that Mayor Michael Applebaum, the city's self professed Mr. Clean, was arrested and accused of offering political favours to real estate promoters to pocket or to funnel to an acquaintance a couple of thousand dollars dumbfounded Montrealers. After months of revelations on the collusion between top civil servants and engineering and construction firms, taxpayers thought they had seen it all.

Nature loathes a void, as Aristotle theorized. With the resignation of the interim mayor who replaced Gérald Tremblay – the man who saw none of the shady dealings under his nose – speculation about Mr. Applebaum's successor is running wild. Who's next?

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But the real issue is not who will run Montreal for five months, but who will get elected on Nov. 3. And for a business community that is shocked as Montreal's fall is making headlines in The New York Times and Le Monde, there is no obvious choice.

The only thing business leaders agree on is that they don't want Richard Bergeron as mayor. The Projet Montréal leader holds a couple of strange ideas. This marathon runner once said he smokes to slow himself down so that he won't get injuries. He also wrote in a book that the Bush administration may have secretly orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks to declare war on Iraq and seize its oil reserves.

But his party's record in the Plateau borough, where the proliferation of parking meters and traffic attenuation measures have scared clients and incensed shopkeepers, probably hurts him most.

Louise Harel, whose Vision Montréal party placed second in the 2009 elections, is also a divisive figure. The former Parti Québécois heavyweight has decades of political experience. But with her poor command of English and her baggage as the minister that forced municipal mergers on the island, she is unpopular west of Saint-Laurent boulevard.

Enter the newcomers, who are few and far between given the mess at city hall; for many, $156,128 a year is simply not worth all the trouble.

That Denis Coderre, the former Liberal MP, would run for Montreal mayor has been the worst kept secret of the past year. But after his long striptease, Mr. Coderre has yet to impress with new ideas and strong teammates from the private sector. This ex-minister who has run in nine federal elections is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a career hand-shaker more than a sound manager or a visionary.

Then there is Mélanie Joly, the 34-year-old lawyer who organized Justin Trudeau's leadership campaign in Quebec. She has the guts to run without a team or a program even if few believe she has enough experience to handle Montreal's problems. But her decision to unveil her candidacy Monday, as every media outlet was reporting on Mr. Applebaum's arrest, showed poor judgment for a public relations executive.

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Yet there is one Montrealer that has spiked the interest of the business community, even though his candidacy has yet to be confirmed, and Monday's arrests may have put that off for some time. It's Marcel Côté, a founding partner of Secor Group.

While this Montreal consulting firm launched in 1975 and sold to KPMG in 2012 might not be widely known outside Quebec, it is a household name in the province. This small but influential think thank has accompanied many of Quebec Inc.'s companies as they grew, such as Bombardier, Hydro-Québec, SNC-Lavalin, Transcontinental, Vidéotron, etc. Mr. Côté himself established a thriving consultancy in Paris as he advised the Groupe Galeries Lafayette among other French companies.

With a master's degree in economics from Carnegie-Mellon, Mr. Côté has long been active in politics, although mostly behind the scenes. While the federalist ran unsuccessfully for the defunct Union Nationale party in 1973, he counselled Premier Robert Bourassa and Prime Minister Mulroney. The die-hard Montrealer who lives in the McGill ghetto has also weighed in on almost every public debate in Montreal, from the language law, the roof of the Olympic stadium, the exodus of anglophones to the taxi industry.

This 70-year-old consultant is viewed by many as an ideal candidate, although his direct style and colourful language have sometimes stirred controversy.

But there is a but. Mr. Côté is mulling a coalition with Ms. Harel and some members of her party, to transcend the usual English-French, merged-demerged boroughs divides. And this has dumbfounded many of Mr. Côté's potential supporters who cannot bear the Vision Montréal leader.

But as Montreal tries to clean up its act and to earn back the trust and the credibility that the city has lost, overlooking this unlikely duo may be a luxury it cannot afford.

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About the Author
Chief Quebec correspondent

Sophie Cousineau is The Globe and Mail’s chief Quebec correspondent. She has been working as a journalist for more than 20 years, and was La Presse’s business columnist prior to joining the Globe in 2012. Ms. Cousineau earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from McGill University. More


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