Louise Harel: The Great Evader

Vision Montreal mayoral candidate is as clean as a whistle – but as slippery as an eel

Montréal - élection 2009

Louis Harel, with her soft-spoken, ladylike demeanour, is a master at evading the pointed question on everything from the impact of sovereignty on Montreal’s economy to betraying those suburbs that voted to stay part of the Montreal megacity – and the media too often let her get away with it. Photograph by: Pierre Obendrauf, The Gazette

By Henry Aubin - MONTREAL – Louise Harel showed decisiveness and good judgment in dumping running-mate Benoit Labonté within 48 hours of reports on his questionable dealings. The mayoral candidate emerges personally untouched by the ethics controversy involving the party she leads.
Still, less attractive sides of Harel’s character and intentions have become clearer than ever in recent days.
One trait the Vision Montréal leader put on display Sunday when interviewed on Radio-Canada’s Tout le monde en parle was slipperiness.
Here is the first question put to the former Parti Québécois minister: “You are one of the makers of the controversial municipal mergers for which many Quebecers have still not forgiven the PQ. You are a strong sovereignist. You are criticized for not speaking English very well. How do you expect to persuade federalists, anglophones and those still upset over the mergers to vote for you?” Fine question.
To allow you to appreciate how Harel tackled it, I’ll quote her response in full: “Those who were really against the merger – the (people of) the 15 municipalities from the island’s western part – left Montreal in 2005. The program of Vision Montreal, and its renewed team, will allow us to return to normal. It is not normal for a mayor not to know what is happening (with public-works contracts) in his city. It is not normal! A mayor has a duty to know!” And on she went, attacking Mayor Gérald Tremblay, who was also on the show.
Notice how she minimized popular dissent over the forced mergers, failed to address sovereignty and English, claimed her party program and slate will be a solution without saying how, and never hinted at what “normal” means. Then she changed the subject by launching a diversionary attack on her rival on an entirely unrelated matter.
It was vintage Harel. Evade, evade, evade. In imposing the mergers, for example, she evaded all public consultation at which she would have to deal with tough questions.
And she gets away with it. The merger was imposed willy-nilly. And on Sunday the show’s host never tried to pin her down. The media usually treat her gently. She has a soft-spoken, ladylike demeanour that invites amiability.
Harel encountered less deference last week when she came to The Gazette. But she was as slippery as ever.
Here’s what I mean.
“Would sovereignty be good for Montreal’s economy?” she was asked. The question refers to her two passions: promoting Quebec independence and defending Montreal’s prosperity. Are those dual ambitions compatible? I would have liked to hear what she had to say. But she closed the door on such discussion, saying, “It’s not for the municipal election to address sovereignty.”
Harel was also asked about her plan to recentralize power from the boroughs to the central city. How would she do this without violating the terms of the demerger referendums (in which Montrealers were promised substantial powers for boroughs in exchange for staying loyal to the megacity)? She did not answer the question even when it was repeated, instead talking about borough matters.
I infer that she doesn’t see betraying the referendum terms as a problem for her.
She was also asked if she’d help the Yes side in the event of a sovereignty referendum. She said, “I would not do it as the mayor of Montreal.”
Note the wording. It raises the question of whether she would help in a personal capacity, outside her role as mayor.
The tumultuous merger has preoccupied Montreal Island ever since Harel proposed it 10 years ago next month. The Mother of the Merger was asked, “Has the merger permitted Montreal to accomplish any significant things that wouldn’t have been possible without the merger?” She said, yes, the merger created boroughs.
That’s not a valid answer. The merger and creation of the original city of Montreal’s boroughs came simultaneously, yet the creation of the boroughs in no way required the merger of the rest of the island.
Harel’s answers are, despite themselves, quite revealing. She might have shown integrity in jettisoning Labonté, but when it comes to speaking about what she stands for, the Great Evader demonstrates an extraordinary lack of forthrightness and intellectual weight.
Last word goes to Côte St. Luc councillor Mike Cohen. Reflecting on Montreal’s election turmoil from the demerged suburbs’ perspective, he says, “Thank goodness we are out of Montreal.”
Henry Aubin is The Gazette’s regional-affairs columnist.

Laissez un commentaire

Aucun commentaire trouvé