Marcel Côté on Making Montreal a ‘University City,’ Improving Public Transit
Montreal mayoral candidate Marcel Côté is experienced in management, but a political neophyte.
The 71-year-old leader of political party Coalition Montréal obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Ottawa in 1966 and a master’s degree in economics from Carnegie Mellon University in 1969.
He co-founded management consulting firm SECOR in 1975 and led it for roughly 30 years. International auditing and professional services company KPMG acquired the firm in 2012. Côté has also advised government leaders on economic policy.
Despite his experience, Côté has struggled to connect with voters. In early October, a Léger poll commissioned by the QMI press agency put him in third place with 17 per cent of the vote—just slightly ahead of 34-year-old Mélanie Joly, who had 16 per cent support and had until then been mostly dismissed as an also-ran by the media.
Côté has also had to address controversies over robocalls and comments by one of his party’s candidates in recent weeks, which may explain a recent poll putting him in fourth place with 11 per cent of the vote.
About 1,000 automated phone calls were made to Montreal residents on behalf of his party on Oct. 7. The calls criticized mayoral candidate Richard Bergeron’s Projet Montréal party, but didn’t identify Côté’s official agent or state that Coalition Montréal was behind the calls—a violation of the province’s electoral laws.
Then, on Oct. 21, Louise Harel—a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2009 and is now part of Côté’s coalition—said the party would make one of the members of the city’s executive committee responsible for promoting the French language if elected.
Harel also expressed concerns about English signs in Montreal stores.
In an interview with The Link, Côté addressed Harel’s comments, saying he’d make someone on the executive committee responsible for the francophone community and another member responsible for the anglophone and other cultural communities. This is necessary to better manage Montreal’s “linguistic duality” and not just leave it up to the provincial government, according to Côté.
“The problems are not the same,” he said. “[The] French complain of signage, they complain of the percentage of French-speaking households diminishing on the island and that sort of thing, whereas the English complain about jobs, job discrimination, they complain about getting service in their own language.
“So the issues are different and I want strong advocates, and I thought that it would not be appropriate to have the same person oversee French and oversee English.”
He said Montrealers should give him their votes “because the city now is a mess.”
“Until we fix that mess, the future of Montreal looks bleak,” he said. “We bring experience and focus to fix Montreal first and above all, and this we can do.”
He said his past experience in management would help him at city hall.
“I’ve worked with big organizations and one of my tasks was to make them more efficient,” he said, “so I know what we have to do in Montreal to fix city hall, and this is mainly because of my experience [in management consulting].”
A University City
Côté also told The Link he would work to turn Montreal into more of a true university city, and to do so, he is seeking to create more affordable housing for students.
“On the housing side, we will promote student housing much more than we have [up until] now,” he said. “There’s maybe 10,000 housing units for students now, and I think that we should try to get a lot more than that.
“We have about 50,000 university students which are out-of-towners. There’s only dedicated housing for about 10,000 of them, so we should expand there, making sure that [projects] remain within costs.”
Coalition Montréal’s platform commits “to [developing] student housing, by creating land reserves and converting existing buildings.” The party’s platform states that it will suggest that Montreal universities set a target of 5,000 new residence beds if elected.
Côté also reiterated his promise to make all full-time students, regardless of age, eligible for reduced-fare monthly transit passes.
Currently, only students under the age of 26 have access to the reduced fare of $45, with older students paying the full price of $77. Under Côté’s plan, the city—and not public transit corporation Société de transport de Montréal—would cover the $9-million cost of making the change.
Additionally, Côté said he’s interested in “working with the universities to promote Montreal like a university town.” His platform states that he’ll develop a liaison office with universities and CEGEPs and integrate the concepts of being a “university city” and “global creative city” into Montreal’s international branding.
“I think there are all kinds of things that we can do in terms of promotion to [raise] interest [among] more students to come to Montreal and to position Montreal as a university town,” he said.
More Reserved Bus Lanes
Coalition Montréal’s election platform has committed the party to creating 150 kilometres of “new reserved lanes to speed up bus routes.”
According to a CTV Montreal report published on Oct. 24, there are currently 190 kilometres of bus lanes along 29 different routes.
The STM already has plans to increase the total length of reserved bus lanes to 370 kilometres by 2020, according to the public transit corporation’s Strategic Plan 2020, which was adopted by its board of directors in 2011. Mayoral rival Denis Coderre is committed to that target of 370 kilometres.
Meanwhile, a central part of Joly’s platform is a commitment to create a 130 kilometre-long bus rapid transit network. BRT vehicles often can control traffic signals, have priority at intersections, and make a more limited amount of stops at stations where passengers pay their fares before boarding.
Côté said there’s a “continuum” between BRT lines and bus routes that use reserved lanes. Still, he noted that BRT lines demand more infrastructure since they usually use entirely dedicated lanes that are permanently closed to cars.
“The problem is at rush hour,” he said. “If you exclude rush hour, then the congestion problem is much milder. The beauty of reserved lanes is that they can be reserved [for] the morning rush hour or the afternoon rush hour and be of full use to all traffic during the rest of the day.”
He said only a few bus routes have ridership levels that justify “five-star” dedicated lanes like those used by BRT systems.
Côté also doesn’t support Bergeron’s proposal for a tramway network. He told The Link that the costs of building a tramway are “outrageous” and “there’s no flexibility with the streetcar,” referring to the fact that routes can’t easily be changed.
“You can have the same flow of people using a [BRT system] than using a tramway,” he said. “And the [BRT] costs less and offers you much more flexibility.”
Changing Montreal’s Charter
Côté and his party would also review Montreal’s city charter over the next few years to look at ways of changing the charter in order to “avoid the annual pilgrimage to Quebec City to have the charter amended, as we will have more leeway and won’t need an amendment each time we want to change something.”
He said all provincial political parties have “indicated they’re open to that, because they also think it’s futile—these annual amendments—especially since nobody in Quebec City is knowledgeable about the Montreal charter.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated that only students “under the age of 25” have access to the reduced fare of $45. In fact, students aged 26 or over have to pay the full price of $77, but those who are 25 still have access to the reduced fare. The article has been updated accordingly. The Link regrets the error.