Almost a year after it started, Projet Montréal leader Richard Bergeron’s participation in Montreal’s Executive Committee has come to an end. The issue that caused the break was a major disagreement between Bergeron and Mayor Tremblay in the latest instalment of the Turcot saga. Earlier this week Bergeron publicly threatened to resign if the mayor didn’t commit to opposing any Turcot Interchange project that didn’t meet the city’s demands. The MTQ (provincial ministry of transport) is set to unveil the modified version of its project next week, and word is it falls far short of the City of Montreal’s vision.
While Bergeron admits that he hasn’t seen the actual plans, he maintains that Tremblay has and that he verbally explained what it will include. Bergeron qualified the changes in the project as cosmetic, and believes that it doesn’t meet the conditions that all parties on city council have set forth. Tremblay says that the improvements are real, that this is the best the city will be able to get, and that we should accept the project and work with the MTQ to improve the details. All members of the Executive Committee will be required to support this position.
According to Bergeron he was originally planning on stepping down next week after the MTQ’s “improved” plan was publicly revealed. But seeing the writing on the wall, Tremblay blinked first and this week demanded that Bergeron commit to supporting the administration in its decision to accept the MTQ proposal. When Bergeron refused, his participation in the Executive Committee was over. Some say he was fired, others say he resigned. It seems like the decision was made by mutual agreement by both players that Bergeron couldn’t continue if he didn’t support the project. Projet Montréal explains Bergeron’s decision here, on its website.
This sort of break up was inevitable. Bergeron’s presence on the Executive Committee has always created tensions. He was often forced to tacitly endorse policies that his party was opposed to because he couldn’t vote against proposals coming from the Union Montreal-majority Executive Committee. Moreover, the parameters were never set. Unlike in a coalition context there was no commonly agreed upon administration program written up before hand. Policies had to be negotiated on an issue by issue basis, and at the end of the day Tremblay was always guaranteed to have his way since he controls the majority of seats on council. As a result Bergeron had only as much influence as Tremblay let him. He did manage to leave his mark on a number of projects, but it was only a matter of time before a hot button issue came up on which no agreement was possible.
It’s important to point out that for the time being the multi-party Executive Committee hasn’t ended yet, though its ideological diversity has been greatly reduced. Vision Montreal’s Lyn Thériault is still there as the responsible for social development. Her presence has created less waves mainly because she’s just a Vision councillor and not the party leader. She’s also a better fit with Union given that she’s a PLQ supporter and one of the few right-wing Vision veterans to continue on under Harel’s leadership. She keeps a low profile and for the time being it seems that her position on the Executive Committee is secure.
While it’s unfortunate that Bergeron is leaving the committee, it’s probably the best thing that could happen at this point. We’ll be stuck with the new Turcot for decades to come so we need to get it right. There is a broad consensus across Montreal about what sort of project the city needs, and this coalition risks being derailed by a mayor who’s not willing to stick to his guns. If the project is as bad as Bergeron says it is (we’ll find out next Tuesday) he had no choice but to leave and not be complicit in supporting it. He’ll be better able to lead an effective opposition on city council and support mobilisations in broader civil society. As for the dream of a more collaborative, less confrontational city council, it was bound to fail as soon as a contentious issue emerged. It was a gesture that Tremblay likely made in good faith, but one that just couldn’t be sustainable in the political system that Montreal has.