The Métropolitain

Brother Tremblay: Is Marcel Tremblay done with politics?

Par Dan Delmar le 19 mars 2009

The affable Marcel Tremblay – NDG councilor, Montreal executive committee member and City Hall’s resident crusader for civic-minded behaviour – is, as they say, in a period of reflection. 

tremblay-3---delmarbw.jpgTremblay, 65, told The Métropolitain that he is toying with the idea of retiring from politics. First elected to council in 2001, he has been the face associated with the one bread-and-butter issue that the city could just never seem to get right: Snow removal. After every storm, he would step in front of television cameras, repeating variations of, “we’re doing the best we can,” and appealing for calm. Once in a while, his penchant for paternalism would slip through and he would scold Montrealers for not respecting post-snowfall parking restrictions or ignoring the fact that the city has a public transport system.

That is until his elder brother Gérald, the Mayor, decided to relieve Marcel of his duties last month as part of an executive committee shuffle.

“I can’t say that I jumped in the air because I was glad. It was a disappointment, for sure,” Tremblay said, while seeming mildly appreciative that a colossal weight has been lifted off his shoulders. “I think what added up to [the shuffle] was that we had a bad start to December. In politics, people give you a job and eventually they will take it away. One day you’re a King and the next…”

…You’re having an awkward Sunday dinner, facing the most important man in the city, who just chipped away at your political (and financial) capital. No hard feelings, Tremblay says, pointing out that he’s a “team player” and remains a member of the EC – the Mayor’s inner-circle – in charge of cultural communities, Parc Jean Drapeau and planning Montreal’s 375th birthday bash (taking place in 2017, long after the Tremblay Bros. municipal dynasty has ended).

“My jobs have made me very public,” he said, bemoaning the “prestige problem” he has suffered at the hands of caricaturists, journalists and other naysayers. “Sometimes it’s better for some people to disappear so someone else (Anjou borough mayor Luis Miranda, who is now in charge of snow removal and other citizen services) to go to the front and change things for the better.”

Tremblay is no stranger to public service. In the early 1970s, he was a political attaché to former provincial Liberal leader Claude Ryan. He’s managed a few government agencies, including Participaction, the federal physical education program. Earlier in his career, he was a school principal, which may explain his unique, at times disciplinarian style.

“I basically solve problems,” he said, describing his off-the-cuff, blunt approach to politicking. “I don’t like to make new laws and bylaws. I don’t want any parades…that’s my nature. I’ve never been someone who makes decisions for (the good of) my career. I’m too old to have a career.”

His Union Montreal cohorts feel otherwise. Tremblay said he’s been asked to run again for council in November and he’s thinking about it. When asked which way he’s leaning, he said it depends on the day; he’ll finish his mandate, but some days the passion is there and some days it isn’t.

Opposition in NDG is already mobilizing: Local activist Peter McQueen plans to run against Tremblay for either Vision Montreal or the small Project Montreal party. An environmentalist an d former Green Party candidate, McQueen is a constant irritant for Tremblay and other councilors, particularly on dossiers relating to public safety and urban planning.

The cultural communities and cleanliness portfolios are two that Tremblay prides himself on advancing since 2001. On cultural communities, he said his brother’s administration has gone far beyond municipal jurisdiction is trying to welcome new Canadians and help find them work. “The first day they find work is the first day they integrate into our society.” 

On cleanliness, Tremblay said that at the start, he had “absolutely nothing to work with,” and Montreal is cleaner now than it was under the Pierre Bourque administration. As head of Citizen Services, he was in charge of the OpérationMontreal.net cleanliness brigade that patrols city streets, in greater numbers during the summer months, collecting trash. He supports garbage inspections and fining of residents who don’t respect collection rules. 

“I think our inspectors have a job to do and I encourage them to be as severe as possible so we can all recycle,” he said last year, when inspectors were threatening residents with $1,000 fines. “We have targets at the provincial government level…but we have to improve.”

He makes no effort to hide his disappointment, sometimes deep frustration with Côte des Neiges-NDG residents who litter, leave discarded furniture along borough streets and even those who spit on sidewalks. Walking toward his home on Prud’Homme Ave. after this month’s council meeting, he stopped to pick up an errant plastic bag that once contained rock salt. He then crossed the street to put it in a resident’s recycling bin. Was the gesture for the benefit of The Métropolitain? Of course not, he said; just a tiny act of “civility.”