Peter F. Trent: Denis Coderre would have a unique advantage if he became premier

Having a former Montreal mayor running the provincial show would put paid to the devastation caused by François Legault’s distaste for the metropolis.

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The Quebec Liberal Party has been acephalous since November 2022. An unled political party in Quebec is like going into battle without a commanding officer. For reasons known only to themselves, the Liberals have decided to soldier on without a permanent leader until the spring of 2025. Into this vacuum stepped Denis Coderre.

Meanwhile, Premier François Legault’s uncompromising, unrelenting and unfathomable attacks on Quebec’s English-speaking community continue. Legault appears to feel at home only where seldom is heard an anglophone word.

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The necessary promotion of one language does not require the demonization of another language — nor of those who speak it.

What can be done to throttle this toxic stream of anglophobia at the source? Coderre could be a solution. Yet when Coderre — who would be a champion of both French and English communities — announced he was considering going after the Liberal leadership, there was no gale of cheering rising up from the Quebec anglosphere.

What is at stake is more than hoary old language battles. With his montréalophobie, Legault has consistently ignored Quebec’s economic engine. His attack on English universities included McGill, a world-renowned jewel of higher education that contributes immensely to Montreal’s prestige.

Luckily, Legault’s party, the Coalition Avenir Québec, is ephemeral because it is a Potemkin party built around one person. There is no coalition at the top. It looks like an internal autocracy operating in a supposedly democratic setting, not unlike the one-person-show political “parties” that run the City of Montreal. The CAQ is a bespoke party that cuts its cloth to match each quirk, improvisation and prejudice of its worshipful leader. How far does he dress to the right? Only his party knows for sure.

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Yet Legault himself always looks a bit ill at ease, as if he would rather be somewhere else; he cannot seem to wriggle out of his self-constructed carapace. And when Legault gets in a petulant pique and his voice begins to squeak, he does not give the impression of being someone in control.

Legault probably went into politics with the best of intentions. But the ugly alchemy of politics transforms so many of those who try their hand at it; just the sheer unnaturalness and viciousness of political flails, amplified by anti-social media, can break people. His ascension to premiership brought a delusive balm of adulation, perhaps from toadying assistants or beholden ministers.

Quebec was not ready for such a refined person as former Liberal leader Dominique Anglade proved to be near the end of her leadership, any more than it warmed to cerebral former premier Philippe Couillard.

There had been no embarrassment of choices for Liberal leader until Coderre stuck his head above the parapet in January. Would he become another Legault? No. The Quebec Liberal Party is a traditional party. While it could benefit from the injection of Coderre’s energy, it will retain its history of values — which are not dissimilar to those of the pre-Justin Trudeau federal Liberals, with whom Coderre cut his political teeth.

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Aside from having “federalist” tattooed on every square inch of skin, Coderre would have a unique advantage if ever he became premier. What better shot in the arm for Montreal than having a former Montreal mayor running the provincial show? That would put paid to the devastation caused by Legault’s distaste for Montreal and his constant pandering to Quebec City. And under Legault’s watch, what I call the tyranny of the rurality in Quebec just grows.

After having dithered about closing/not closing Camillien-Houde Way to through traffic, after eviscerating downtown and — most importantly — after ignoring the long-standing flight of middle-class families to off-island exurbs, we can’t depend on Mayor Valérie Plante to halt Montreal’s decline. Denis Coderre in the National Assembly might help.

Peter F. Trent, a former inventor and businessman, served five terms as mayor of Westmount and led the Montreal demerger movement. His Merger Delusion was a finalist for the best Canadian political book of 2012.

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