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Montreal chooses anglo as mayor

Vote puts first non-francophone in charge of city in a century

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MONTREAL -- For the first time in 100 years, Montreal has an anglophone mayor following a string of improbable events that rocked the administration of a scandal-weary city.

In a stunning result, Michael Applebaum won a vote at city council, 31-29, to become the city's first non-francophone mayor since just before the First World War.

Applebaum will serve as interim mayor of Canada's second-largest city for a year, with a promise not to run in the next municipal election of November 2013.

Anglophones in Quebec rarely hold such prominent political roles.

In the municipality of Montreal itself, only 13 per cent of people claim English as their mother tongue; a far greater number of Montrealers actually speak the language in their everyday lives, however, given that 47 per cent of residents are not original French-speakers.

The notion of an Anglo mayor would have seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago, while the city was involved in one of its periodic linguistic debates during a provincial election campaign where language tensions figured prominently.

After the vote results were read out, Applebaum insisted he would do the best he could for all citizens in what he described as an increasingly multicultural city.

"Montreal is an inclusive city, where people can get a good job, people can work together and we live in harmony," he told reporters outside the council chamber.

"I'm going to do my job as the mayor, but I do not want to be seen as an anglophone mayor."

The political rarity was made possible by a string of spectacular developments. As late as last week, Applebaum appeared to have a slim chance of success -- but he went about building support and was helped along by a unique set of circumstances.

Applebaum, who sometimes stumbles when speaking French and wields a thick accent, even appeared to win over Montreal opposition leader Louise Harel, a former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister.

The sovereigntist PQ, a passionate defender of the French language in the province, has long bemoaned what it insists is the encroachment of English in Montreal.

Harel, leader of the Vision Montreal party, declined to reveal whom she supported in the secret-ballot vote. But she smiled broadly while casting her ballot and later noted that she was pleased with the result.

"We're happy with the openness it allows," Harel said of Applebaum's win, following campaign in which he promised to bring members of all parties together to run the city.

"The status quo was not acceptable, so we all decided to be players in this change to do politics differently."

In his speech before the vote, Applebaum cast himself as a historic candidate but not for linguistic reasons. He has brushed aside questions about language, and didn't utter a word of English in his speech Friday.

Applebaum said his victory would be historic because he wanted to create a multi-partisan coalition, uniting former foes to clean up the scandal-plagued city.

The flurry of developments leading to his win began last week with the resignation of Gerald Tremblay, the former mayor whose administration was tarnished in a corruption scandal.

Because the mayor resigned less than a year before an election, provincial law said his successor had to be picked by city council on an interim basis.

Applebaum was an obvious contender, given that he was the No. 2 politician in the city after the mayor.

At a subsequent meeting, members of the Union Montreal caucus sidelined Applebaum and picked Richard Deschamps as their candidate.

Applebaum upstaged his old allies. He quit the caucus to sit as an independent, citing policy differences. He said he was taking a stand in favour of two things: smaller tax hikes and more transparency.

He insisted on tax hikes one percentage point lower than the planned 3.3 per cent. And he revealed the existence of a document that showed city officials were aware years ago that Montreal's closed construction industry created cost overruns.

Applebaum, the mayor of Montreal's largest borough, then went about building alliances.

He courted the two opposition parties, who agreed not to run their own candidates. He promised them positions in a coalition administration. And he assured them that he would not run against them in the next election.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2012 A21

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