Paul Wells: I used to wonder where all the politicians with heart and wit went. Turns out they’re in Montreal, trying to turn a parking lot into a place where people actually live.
One of my pet theories is that politics in Canada is fine. Just not at the federal level. And, sure, not always at the provincial level. But municipal politics will give you hope, at least often enough. In cities and towns, citizens can still mobilize to make a difference. They can build an alternative when the incumbents forget how to listen. Municipal politicians are less frequently rewarded for brute antagonism and blind loyalty than their more glamorous cousins in Parliament, so real debate and thoughtful give-and-take aren’t things of the past.
I don’t want to idealize things. Municipal politics can be uninspiring and ugly. Too often it can even be bought and sold. But in a lot of cities and towns, it doesn’t feel stuck. So it still feels worth doing.
Exhibit A, in this season of municipal elections, is Montreal, where the two leading candidates for the job of mayor will stage a rematch on Nov. 7. Denis Coderre you know. He was a utility player in the federal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, jockeyed for advantage in the ever-shrinking Liberal party of Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, then got elected as Montreal’s mayor in 2013. At 58, Coderre is finally almost as old as he always seemed to be. He’s an old-school brokerage politician. He can work with anybody, until he gets tired of them. He commanded similarly fleeting allegiance from Montreal voters, who turfed him after one term in 2017. This year he’s trying for a comeback.
The woman who beat him once and hopes to do so again is Valérie Plante, mayor since 2017. She’s 11 years younger than Coderre, and cheerier. She leads a rarity in Montreal city politics: a political party that existed before she came along and may yet outlast her, a green, progressive, grassroots-driven party called Projet Montréal. To caricature, Coderre is in politics to be. The Projet Montréal gang is in politics to do. This corner offers no prediction about who will win.
But my gosh I’ve enjoyed finding out more about Projet Montréal, thanks to one of the most fascinating Canadian political books in an age. Saving the City: The Challenge of Transforming a Modern Metropolis is a long, detailed history of Projet Montréal and, more broadly, of city politics in Montreal since the 1970s. Its author is Daniel Sanger, whom I knew as a reporter for The Canadian Press when I lived in Montreal, too briefly, in the 1990s. More recently, Sanger worked as an organizer for Projet Montréal and, once it won office in a key district and then city-wide, as a senior staff member. He was fired a few years ago, in a way that left him with a bunch of good anecdotes and no reason to hold them back.
Saving the City combines the clear eye of a very good reporter with the insider access of a sympathetic partisan. Almost everyone in this story talked to Sanger, at length and with no filter. Almost all of them are keen students of others’ flaws, and reasonably happy to admit their own. For a reader in Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa, where everything is scripted euphemism, Sanger’s frankness, and that of his sources, is a tonic. I’ve always thought politics was about imperfect people chasing perfect goals, often badly, always with heart, and sometimes even with some wit. For the life of me, I’ve been wondering where those people went. Turns out they’ve been in Montreal.
Sanger’s main source is Projet Montréal founder and three-time failed mayoral candidate Richard Bergeron, “who’s brilliant and knows it, as warm as a block of ice and unable to get along with most members of his caucus, never mind the electorate.” (I should note that the English edition of Sanger’s book isn’t out yet, so I’m translating from the French edition. Treat these quotes as paraphrases.)
Basically, Plante comes along after it finally becomes impossible to ignore how bad Bergeron is at politics. But by then Bergeron has already accomplished a lot. In politics, a powerful idea doesn’t need a glamorous messenger, just as no amount of charm can long fill a vacuum.
Bergeron’s idea is simple: he wants to tilt Montreal’s urban balance away from cars and drivers, back toward pedestrians and neighbourhoods. Raised in an orphanage in small-town Chicoutimi, he becomes a Montreal taxi driver, drives every inch of the city’s arteries and back streets—and learns to hate cars. “A car is a machine for killing cities and building suburbs,” he says. He wants streetcars, which are cleaner and quieter than automobiles. He allies himself with the residents of the Plateau Mont-Royal, the middle-class residential steppe east of Montreal’s runty downtown “mountain,” who want a few main streets closed to all but pedestrian traffic.
The new party builds out its agenda from that core. New recruits and supporters arrive at a steady pace. They’re driven, pretty reliably, by two things: first, by the fear that Montreal is becoming uninhabitable at street level. One guy discovers that when he brings laundry in off the clothesline, it smells like diesel fuel. Second, by a contemptuous response from incumbent politicians and city officials the first time they suggested doing things a different way.
In 2009, Projet Montréal wins control of the Plateau Mont-Royal district administration. Sanger goes to work for the district mayor, another key Projet Montréal figure. They diligently apply a detailed program, never worrying much about opposition: eventually the opponents are outnumbered by supporters. More than a decade after taking the Plateau, the party has never lost it.
The rest of the city, less boho go-gauche, is a harder sell. The party finally learns it can’t win on that larger scale without a charmer like Plante. She is slower to realize she can’t win without a dedicated grassroots movement like Projet Montréal. A lot of party faithful worry that she’s a parvenue who doesn’t share their goals. Many quit in dismay at what the party has become on its way to city hall. Sanger is surprisingly open about sharing these concerns. Just about everyone in the book meets moments of disillusionment, betrayal, dashed hope. Many have only themselves to blame.
In short, it’s politics, a word I intend as a compliment without pretending it’s ever a synonym for perfection. By the end, in the present day, Montreal feels less like a parking lot and more like a place where people live: ornery, flawed people who aren’t pretending to be anything more. From Ottawa, it looks like some tempting mirage.
This article appears in print in the December issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline,“Imperfect people chasing perfect goals.”
Women-in-politics group expands province-wide – Toronto Star
See Jane Run, a grassroots organization promoting and supporting women interested in running for municipal office in the Saint John area, is expanding to help women across New Brunswick.
In a media release Friday, co-founder Katie Bowden said the municipal reform white paper will kick off the process for a series of November 2022 municipal elections. She said See Jane Run will be there to support female candidates and promote diversity provincially yet again.
“The 2021 election was a solid step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go before we see the diversity of our communities reflected around our province’s council tables,” Bowden said.
The sweeping municipal reforms mean 57 communities will have a municipal election next year, and 12 newly formed rural districts will elect councillors. Seven communities will hold by-elections to elect representatives for the communities merging with other municipalities.
Bowden said the 2022 election means they won’t have to wait another four years before working toward the goal of more diversity in municipal politics.
“We will be continuing to encourage and welcome Black, Indigenous, people of colour and gender-diverse folks to offer as candidates and join our group,” she said. “Ensuring there is a wide variety of perspectives heard both in the upcoming election and around the council table will be a huge win for our province.”
Formed in 2021, See Jane Run, which is run by volunteers, held a campaign college speaker series and private Facebook group for candidates and their campaign managers.
Along with Bowden, Rothesay Coun. Tiffany Mackay French and Grand Bay-Westfield Mayor Brittany Merrifield also co-founded See Jane Run.
“There is no party system at the municipal level, so candidates are on their own,” Mackay French said in the release. “See Jane Run fills that void, building a non-partisan community of support around our candidate group, helping them navigate the election process, ask questions in a safe space, tackle challenges together, and understand how to be successful at the job they’re running for.”
In the process of becoming a not-for-profit, the organization plans to begin fundraising to offer its campaign college materials in both French and English.
“Municipal elections are part of the leadership funnel that will see us eventually reach gender parity in the New Brunswick legislature, and elect our first female Premier,” Merrifield said in the release. “It all starts close to home – and now is the time to start thinking about offering your candidacy next November.”
Merrifield won’t have to re-offer in the by-elections in 2022 when Grand Bay-Westfield merges with a chunk of the Westfield West LSD. The community will be one of seven holding a by-election to elect a councillor to represent what will become a former LSD.
Merrifield said the 2021 municipal election saw a significant uptick in the number of women running and an increase in the number of women who were successful at winning their election contests.
“The organization was key,” she said. “When you’re running municipally, there’s no party support. You’re kind of out there on your own.”
As a result, four of five of the communities in the region elected a female mayor and four of five communities increased the number of women around the council table, she said.
“We feel we played a small part in that. We built awareness about the fact that women in politics are a good thing for building your capacity for diversity around the table and better policy,” Merrifield noted.
She said women face challenges when entering politics that white male candidates don’t.
“Women carry heavy loads from a work perspective and a home perspective,” she said. “It’s about talking to women about the fact that they can take this on.”
Russia criticises U.S. over threat of escalation with Iran at IAEA
Russia on Friday chided the United States for threatening a diplomatic escalation with Iran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog next month unless it improves cooperation with the agency, saying it risked harming wider talks on the Iran nuclear deal.
The United States threatened on Thursday to confront Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency if it does not give way on at least one of several conflicts with the IAEA, especially its refusal to let the IAEA re-install cameras at a workshop after an apparent attack in June.
“I believe that demonstrates that our American counterparts lose patience but I believe all of us need to control our emotions,” Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov told a news conference with his Chinese counterpart.
“I don’t welcome this particular statement of the U.S. delegation (at the IAEA). It’s not helpful.”
Indirect talks between the United States and Iran aimed at reviving the battered 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers are due to resume on Monday after a five-month break that started after the election that brought Iranian hardline President Ebrahim Raisi to power.
The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Tehran.
Iran responded by breaching many of the restrictions, reducing the time it would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it wanted to. Tehran denies that it would ever seek atomic weapons.
“The U.S. did not negotiate with the Iranians for a very long time and forgot that Iranians don’t do anything under pressure. If they are under pressure, they resist,” Ulyanov said, apparently referring to the fact that U.S. and Iranian envoys are not meeting directly.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)
Extremist Politics Threatens Chile's Economic Miracle – Bloomberg
Chile has for decades been Latin America’s most stable nation and one of its most prosperous. Its pro-business outlook has drawn foreign direct investment and fueled economic growth, and its record in reducing poverty has been impressive. Much of that is now thrown into question. After the recent first round of elections, the two front-runners for the presidency are extremists — an ultraconservative who seems nostalgic for the dictatorial rule of Augusto Pinochet, and a leftist who promises not merely to reform but to dismantle Chile’s economic model. It’s hard to say which of these agendas might prove more toxic.
The candidate of the far right, José Antonio Kast, emerged with a narrow lead heading into the runoff vote on Dec. 19. His platform is thin on economics and heavy on social conservatism and authoritarian messaging. His counterpart on the left, Gabriel Boric, promises radical change to combat inequality, rein in capitalism and dethrone market forces. “If Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism,” he explains, “it will also be its grave.”
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