The selection of LaSalle city councillor Richard Deschamps from among the Union Montreal caucus as the party's candidate to take over the mayoralty of Montreal for the next year was a particularly uninspiring one, given the circumstances that led to his predecessor resigning in disgrace last week. Tremblay resigned not because voters believed he was personally corrupt, but rather because he willfully turned a blind eye to the ingrained system of kickbacks and bribes that permeated Montreal's city hall – and apparently has for many years now.
Testimony heard at the Charbonneau Commission indicated Tremblay was content to put his head in the sand and ignore illegal campaign financing that was going on around him. The Union Montreal choice of Deschamps – a Tremblay loyalist who told reporters he has no immediate game plan for snuffing out corruption at city hall – over candidates we would argue are just as capable of handling the job, such as NDG-Cotes des Neiges borough mayor Michael Applebaum and former Plateau Mont Royal borough mayor Helen Fotopolous, is a choice that tells voters, 'more of the same, please.'
The man even physically resembles Tremblay, for goodness' sakes! This is not the selection that tells voters 'hey, we're serious about changing the culture at city hall,' and even Deschamps' wait-and-see attitude as it pertains to the Charbonneau Commission's findings, while perfectly rational and well-thought-out, are simply not the way to assuage a voting public that will not be interested in voting Union Montreal reps back into office this time next year when it comes time to cast ballots for mayor.
In fact, we rarely agree with Vision Montreal leader Louis Harel, whose role in foisting this mega-city debacle on voters (she created the mega-city as Municipal Affairs Minister for the PQ government in 2000) must not be overlooked, but in this case, she makes a great point.
"It's not just enough to want to replace Gerald Tremblay," she told reporters Thursday night. "You have to want to do politics differently."
In this case, Harel is absolutely right – and Union Montreal's choice of the same-old, same-old type of candidate. Applebaum apparently agrees with us; not 24 hours after losing the caucus vote to Deschamps, he stepped down as chairman of the city's executive committee, ostensibly because he couldn't live with the idea of working under the LaSalle councillor.
What this selection does, however, is improve Harel's own chances of being elected come November 2013. She can unofficially begin her campaign for mayor, with lame-duck Deschamps virtually assured of being ousted in favour of Denis Coderre, should the Bourassa MP decide to enter municipal politics – which has been the worst-kept secret in Montreal for the last month.
But while Harel campaigns while in opposition and Richard Bergeron continues to build support for his Projet Montreal party, the Union Montreal caucus must sit back and watch as they get curb-stomped in public-opinion polls. They had a golden opportunity to make a statement of change – and didn't budge. We think that move will come back and bite them next November.