Municipal politics

EXCLUSIVE: Montreal’s opposition parties in advanced merger talks

Ongoing negotiations are expected to lead to a merger of Projet Montréal and Vrai changement pour Montréal
Photo: Nicolas Nabonne

Ricochet has learned that advanced talks are underway to merge two of Montreal’s opposition political parties into one to challenge mayor Denis Coderre in next year’s municipal election.

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A senior source within Projet Montréal who asked not to be identified by name due to the sensitive nature of ongoing negotiations said that an agreement to join forces with Vrai changement pour Montréal, the political party founded by Mélanie Joly, who is now a Liberal cabinet minister, is imminent.

An agreement in principle is expected to be in place by tomorrow morning.

An agreement in principle is expected to be in place by tomorrow morning.

Vrai changement’s press secretary, Émilie Joly, confirmed that talks are ongoing, but told Ricochet an agreement has yet to be finalized.

“At this point there is only reflection and discussion between our two parties. There are discussions, and if there is a conclusion to those discussions we will issue an official press release. But for now there is only reflection.”

Under the terms of the tentative agreement, Projet Montréal will change the rules of its leadership contest to allow Vrai changement interim leader Justine McIntyre to run for the party’s top job. Members of Vrai changement, the smaller party of the two, will also be given the right to vote in Projet Montréal’s leadership race.

Calls to Projet Montréal’s press secretary were not returned by publication time.

Teaming up to take on Coderre

Mayor Denis Coderre is a prototypical populist, and his love for hockey, Twitter and publicity stunts has endeared him to many Montrealers. Now, as he faces widespread public backlash over his ban on pitbulls, which also accidentally banned goldfish and allows inspectors warrantless access to private residences — a provision almost certain to be found unconstitutional — he is perhaps more vulnerable than ever before.

Everyone from Cesar Milan to Cyndi Lauper has piled onto the mayor for his pitbull legislation.

This weakness on the mayor’s part likely spurred on negotiations between the two opposition parties, who smell blood in the water as everyone from Cesar Milan to Cyndi Lauper has piled onto the mayor for his pitbull legislation.

In the last municipal election in 2013, Projet Montréal was the main challenger to Coderre, but saw an unexpected surge in support for political unknown Mélanie Joly and her party, Vrai changement, built almost entirely around her personal brand and the promise of a clean slate of councillors, untarnished by the corruption which plagued the previous administration.

A split opposition vote between the two parties allowed Coderre an easy victory, and clearly neither party saw a path to victory with the other in the picture in next year’s contest.

Joly stepped down from the leadership of the party she founded in September 2014 and ran with the Liberal Party in last year’s federal election, winning the seat of Ahuntsic-Cartierville and becoming the new government’s heritage minister.

That has led to persistent questions about the future of Vrai changement, founded as it was around the personality of a charismatic leader who is no longer with the party.

Coderre has repeatedly been forced to back down from announced plans when it turned out that legal and logistical issues had not been considered.

Projet Montréal was founded in the mid-2000s by city councillor Richard Bergeron, who grew the party from a single seat, his own, to become the official opposition, before leaving the party to join the executive committee of Coderre’s administration.

An explicitly environmentalist party, Projet Montréal is dedicated to making the city more livable for residents, and its councillors control a majority of seats in at least three Montreal boroughs, where they have been criticized for traffic-calming measures, green alleys, and other local initiatives some have described as “anti-car.”

Criticism of Coderre during the last campaign centred around his decision to run with a majority of the city councillors who served in the disgraced administration of former mayor Gérald Tremblay, and his autocratic style and penchant for crafting policy on the back of cocktail napkins have left him a controversial figure in the city.

Since then he has profited mightily from his impulsive actions, as he did when he took a jackhammer to a community mailbox to protest plans to end door-to-door mail delivery and when he declared the NEB hearings on the Energy East pipeline should be shut down, actions that put him very publicly on side with a majority of Montrealers.

However, that same impulsiveness has backfired at times, as Coderre has repeatedly been forced to back down from announced plans, including longer opening hours for bars and a ban on horse-drawn carriages, when it turned out that legal and logistical issues had not been considered.

He’s a formidable political foe, with broad support in the outlying suburbs of greater Montreal. But his impulsivity gives the opposition lots of ammunition to attack him with, and his path to reelection next year will be less assured if he faces a single, united opposition party.

Details remain murky

The merged forces will likely emerge under the existing Projet Montréal name and identity.

The precise form of the future merged party is not yet clear, and talks will continue over the coming months on how to integrate Vrai changement members into the larger apparatus of Projet Montréal, but due to laws around collecting money in municipal politics it is unlikely that the involved parties will form a new entity. Instead, the merged forces will likely emerge under the existing Projet Montréal name and identity.

A small team of two representatives each from Projet Montréal and Vrai changement have been negotiating in secret for weeks. The proposed deal is expected to go to the executive and caucus of Projet Montréal for approval on Thursday of this week, although that timeline could be extended if there are more final details to iron out.

The Projet Montréal source indicated there would likely be some opposition to the plan within their party’s caucus, but that the proposal already had the support of many members of Projet Montréal’s executive and was expected to receive the support of a majority of the party’s elected officials.

All this comes in the midst of an ongoing leadership race within Projet Montréal, with city councillors Valérie Plante and François Limoges, and architect and urbanist Gérald McNichols Tétreault, the only declared candidates thus far.

Ricochet reached out to several elected officials with Projet Montréal, all of whom either did not return messages or declined to speak on the record, citing a need for more information and a desire not to prejudice ongoing negotiations. Calls to several councillors with Vrai changement were also not returned by publication time.

Updated Oct. 4 at 6:39 to add Tétreault to the list of candidates for Projet Montréal leadership.
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