Unlike most cities in North America, Montreal’s municipal politics are organized around formal political parties. One effect that this has is to greatly increase turnover rates on City Council.
In many cities politics are dominated by the same faces for decades. The more established a councillor, the more likely credible challengers will wait for them to retire before running. They generally face token opposition or are sometimes even acclaimed. As a result, incumbent councillors more or less have their districts as personal fiefdoms.
In Montreal this doesn’t happen. The fact that we have parties running full slates means that there are never any acclamations and that sitting councillors are always challenged. Moreover, as the fortunes of their political party rise and fall even well established councillors get knocked down. Every few election cycles a party will win an lopsided victory that more or less wipes the slate clean.
In 1986 the Montreal Citizens Movement won 55 out of 58 council seats. In 1995 Pierre Bourque and Vision Montreal won a landslide victory, as did Tremblay and Union Montreal in 2005. To a lesser extent, the rise of Projet Montreal in the last election also brought about the defeat of many council veterans in the central city neighbourhoods. Few councillors manage to survive these sweeps, but a select handfull have.
So who wins the title of longest serving city councillor? Depending how you look at it, there are two winners.
Using the criterion of most terms in office the prize goes to Marvin Rotrand, who is currently serving his eighth mandate as city councillor for Snowdon. Rotrand was first elected in 1982 under the banner of the Montreal Citizens Movement. Every election since he has been reelected by landslide margins. He built a reputation as a hard-working, progressive idealist with a deep commitment to open, democratic city government. He left the MCM in the late ’80s, disillusioned by the Jean Doré administration which he criticized as undemocratic and lacking transparency. Rotrand eventually ended up in Union Montréal and now serves as the parliamentary leader of that party’s City Council caucus. Informally he often acts as Tremblay’s anglo wingman and attack dog on Council.
Using the criterion of most years spent in municipal politics, the award goes to Sammy Forcillo, previously of Saint-Jacques but now councillor for Peter-McGill. While Forcillo only has six mandates under his belt, he’s been around even longer than Rotrand, being first elected in 1978 with the Civic Party (i.e. Jean Drapeau’s party). Since then, he’s lost a few elections, but always manages to come back. In 1994 he crossed over to Vision Montréal and was appointed Vice-president of the Executive Committee.
In 2000 he joined Union Montreal, and under Tremblay he had been on the Executive Committee as responsible for finance and infrastructure. In 2009 after almost 30 years representing the Centre-Sud he ran further west in the downtown Peter-McGill district. Following allegations of corruption, Tremblay declined to reappoint him to the executive committee, and he’s now back to being an ordinary city councillor.
So what is Rotrand and Forcillo’s secret to longevity in municipal politics? First off, it helps that they have been strongly implanted in their disticts. But more importantly they are people who know how to reinvent and recycle themselves as the political landscape changes.
Rotrand began his career as a progressive idealist intent on correcting the excesses of the Drapeau era and democratizing the city. After many lonely years on the opposition benches he rallied to Tremblay and now has become one of the staunchest defenders of an administration which epitomizes machine politics. Forcillo, on the other hand, began as a Drapeau loyalist. When the Civic Party began to sink, he jumped ship and has always managed to land on his feet and choose a new vehicle with which to keep himself on council.
In a different era they started their careers on opposing sides of the council chambers, but after a number of transformations they are now both Tremblay stalwarts. And both have managed to hold onto City Council seats after many others have bitten the dust.
Historical Montreal municipal election results can be found here on the city’s website.
photo source: www.unionmontreal.com