Five Mays ago, my husband and I left Ahuntsic to move to the country. I don’t mean the chic countryside near a lake, with a Disney-inspired downtown and pseudo-old wooden store signs. We wanted to live in the real countryside, with cows dotting the landscape and row after row of corn and soybeans. Where men wear blue overalls and women dream of frocks that can only be found in Montreal. In the meantime, they — and I — shop at Giant Tiger, because that’s all we’ve got. Nostalgically, I’ve renamed it Giant Renfrew.
The only thing I truly miss, besides my children and friends, are Montreal restaurants.
In my neck of the woods, most restaurants have the same menu: Pizzas, club sandwiches, poutine, hamburger steaks, and so on. When a nice Lebanese gentleman opened a shawarma palace next to the Jean Coutu, the good country folks descended upon it in droves. Country dwellers are underestimated by restaurant owners. We like diversity in our food, too, and that does not just mean different varieties of poutine.
So, you may ask, why did I leave Montreal?
There is no simple answer to this question, but the state of things in the “metropole,” as ex-mayor Denis Coderre likes to describe Montreal in his “hey, I am back!” political manifesto, leaves much to be desired. Will Montreal ever catch its breath and become fun, magnificent and safe, once more?
There are too many potholes, too many shootings, too many knife attacks, too many businesses with a “Closed” sign on the door. There are coyotes in the parks and rats in the sewers and in empty downtown office towers. Montreal has changed. And it will change more the day we acknowledge that climate change deserves our individual attention.
Montrealers will vote for a mayor and city councillors on Nov. 7. Ex-mayor Denis Coderre of Ensemble Montréal will run against Mayor Valérie Plante of Projet Montréal. For now, I can’t see a credible third-party candidate entering the race, but there’s still plenty of time. Admit it, it’s slim pickings.
I spent the weekend reading Denis Coderre’s book Retrouver Montréal. At 317 pages and filled with fashionable concepts, it’s a slog. Coderre has undergone a spectacular transformation, having lost more than 100 pounds in body weight — and also in ego size, he hints. But he’s still thinking big. He hopes Montrealers will forget the millions spent on Montreal 375, including the $3.5 million granite stumps on the mountain, the Formula E debacle and, of all things that have nothing to do with Montreal, a rodeo.
Coderre still sees himself as a present-day Jean Drapeau, as the mayor who is going to put Montreal on the map. But Montreal has been on the map for a long time. I remember when Montreal was the metropolis of Canada!
Coderre’s book embraces every urban fad: urban density, active mobility, identity and all things systemic. But he touches very little upon the basic services expected of a city administration: snow removal, garbage collection and ensuring peace — and an absence of potholes — in the streets.
Coderre is big on the economy, which is Plante’s weakness. She evidently cares more about the way we live than how we will pay for it all. But I like her vision for Montreal as a city of neighbourhoods.
Which brings me to my big idea that would revolutionize city government. In a spirit of bipartisanship and making the most of each candidate’s strengths, let’s give Montreal two mayors: one, Valérie Plante, would be responsible for Montrealers’ quality of life, and the other, Denis Coderre, would take care of the economy.
Admit it, there is something appealing about this idea, even if it sounds far-fetched.
Should this happen, I might come home, at last.
Denis Coderre outlines detailed political platform in his new book