November 30, 2012

New Montreal mayor is an anglo

One was a fur trader, one was a gardener, one went to jail, one was exiled, and another became prime minister.

The 42 mayors of Montreal have been a very diverse bunch over the 180 years since the city was incorporated, but for the first time in a century, the chief magistrate of Canada’s second-largest metropolis is English — and Jewish to boot.

Michael Applebaum, a 49-year-old real-estate agent who was mayor of a largely English-speaking borough of the city, became mayor of Montreal in the wake of the resignation of Gerald Tremblay, who had served since 2001.

Tremblay left office three weeks ago, defiantly denying any direct knowledge of an institutionalized system of kickbacks in city construction contracts as alleged by witnesses at an ongoing public judicial inquiry into collusion and corruption in Quebec’s construction industry.

A narrow margin of city councillors chose Applebaum, who had only recently been Tremblay’s second in command at City Hall. His supporters included French- and English-speaking councilors from opposition parties.

Applebaum is technically only the interim mayor, pending next year’s full municipal elections. He has said he won’t run for mayor at that time, which may have been a major factor in his election to the temporary post.

Like his predecessor Tremblay, the new mayor might be described as among the more bland of the types to lead Montreal over the years.

Take Camillien Houde, for example. He had been in and out of politics at both the federal and provincial levels but ended up as Montreal mayor in 1928 and served several intermittent terms, until 1940. At that time, his passionate opposition to wartime conscription — a heated topic in Quebec — got him arrested for sedition and he was thrown into a prison camp without trial until 1944. Upon his release, he was promptly elected mayor of Montreal for another 10 years.

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