November 13, 2014 - From the November, 2014 issue

Mayor Denis Coderre of Montreal Values CityLab 2014 Dialogue

Mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre sat down with MIR at CityLab 2014: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges. Coderre provided an overview of Montreal’s efforts toward becoming a “smart city,” emphasizing the importance of new technologies. Noting Quebec and Montreal’s focus on hydro energy and electrification, Coderre affirmed the province and city’s commitment to sustainability. He expressed a desire to continue conversations with other local leaders that view municipalities as the source of innovation.

Denis Coderre

“Electrification of transport is priority number one. Montreal is the capital of hydro electricity—Hydro Quebec is here. We have surplus. Clean energy is a way of life. How can we use it to have a better impact on our sustainable development?” -Denis Coderre

Your presence, Mayor, at the CityLab conference in LA allows our newsletter to renew it’s relationship with Montreal and to ask how the conference’s “smart city” focus aligns with your administration’s governing agenda.

Denis Coderre: It’s key. I’ve been in politics for over 30 years, 16 as a member of Parliament in Ottawa and a Minister of the Crown. With that experience, and because Montreal was at a turning point—a crossroads—I decided to run. 10 months ago, I became Mayor of Montreal.

We don’t define the world by country and continent anymore—it’s through cities. Michael Bloomberg is right about that. Connectivity is key because it’s a matter of governance, of culture, and of relevance. It’s a matter of getting the people closer, as well as sustainable development and energy. I believe technologies can help us achieve this connectivity. I want Montreal to be one of the smartest cities in the world. I appointed a digital officer to be in charge of making it happen—free wi-fi and all.

CityLab is great because it includes 30 mayors representing 23 countries. The major ones are here. Being invited sends a strong message that Montreal is clearly one of the players. I want to make sure that we do what we have to do to bring everybody together.

For Montreal, what does a “smart city” involve? 

It’s a matter of organizational performance—getting the population closer to its institution, to be more efficient. It’s not a matter of centralization or decentralization now. It’s about using IT to make sure that we have a better impact on our own quality of life on several levels. This is going on right now. If we’re not doing that part, then we’re missing something. 

Montreal is a hub, a port of entry. It is Europe in the Americas. If you take all those added values and its diversity, it looks a lot like Los Angeles at a certain level. That’s why we believe that being part of a network will have a major impact. I’m looking to change governance and make sure that we’re focusing on using IT correctly.

In the past, our newsletters have featured Quebec’s electrification of its transportation fleet. Recent elections have resulted in a transition of government leadership. Is electrification still a priority?

It is priority number one. Montreal is the capital of hydro electricity—Hydro Quebec is here. We have surplus. Clean energy is a way of life. How can we use it to have a better impact on our sustainable development? 

A concrete thing to mention: I changed the taxi policy. One item is to electrify them. If we want to have car-sharing services, we can do it through electrification. It will have a major impact on our atmosphere.

I want to bring Formula-E , which is coming to Long Beach in April 2015, to Montreal. Why? Because it sends a strong message to the rest of the world that you can have sports people love, but at the same time, use electricity. It would be an asset and add value to our own sustainable development strategy.

Electrification is a way of life.

Are Quebec and Montreal attracting economic investment—manufacturers of vehicles, buses, fleets, cars, and charging stations? 

There’s R&D and innovation through Hydro Quebec. We have several enterprises coming and many leaders are already etsablished in the Montreal area: Volvo (Novabus), Paccar, Bathium (a French Bolare Group Subsidiary), and Phostech Lithium are some examples.  

We’re looking at everything from the parts, to charging, to how to connect. We are willing to work with our universities to commercialize some of the products that we develop through that process.

Could you address Montreal’s innovation initiatives? Who’s involved in that? You’ve talked both about the province’s universities and Hydro Quebec.

Hydro Quebec is key, of course. But you need to have the political will to do it. We have a government and an administration focusing on that. 

Secondly, part of the business community is involved—Bolare Group from France has an enterprise in south-shore Montreal. Several companies are already there. 

It’s also about networks for the business community. When we had Formula-1, a lot of enterprises came because we were part of that network. It’s the same thing for electrification, regarding major companies. We have a market by itself, but we also have the vision and thinking that’s helping to show people this is the place to be.

Here at CityLab, 30-plus mayors, including yourself, from leading golbal cities are in attendance. Former Mayor Bloomberg, Clinton, C40, and others are talking about the leadership role of regions and mayors in responding to climate change. You have a bit of an advantage over all of them, because with hydro, Quebec has an abundant supply of clean energy. How do you share your province’s experience with mayors who don’t have the advantage of hydro?

I’ll note that I was a cabinet member of the government that signed Kyoto. The fact that we have a government willing to focus on climate change is a winning strategy for everybody. It’s a matter of sharing. We have a lot of things in common. We can be helpful using a complementary approach. For example, what’s your strength in Istanbul or in Barcelona? At the end of the day, we’re all focusing on sustainable development. 

Could you elaborate on Montreal’s sustainable development initiatives and incentives?

The federal government provides some incentives for hybrids and electricity. The minister of transport for Quebec, who’s also the minister in charge of the metropolis, is a personal friend. We’re working closely together. 

I spoke to the president of Hydro Quebec. We understand that we need to join together, and incentives are part of that. Some already exist. If we are all pushing together, we can enhance them to make sure people will buy new electric cars. 

This is the kind of strategy we are willing to focus on and that already exists. We also need to have a strategy of awareness to make sure that people can participate more.

At many CityLab-like conferences, the status of the carbon market and California’s coalition with Quebec dominate the agenda. What, for you, is the value of that alliance?


We have engaged big time. I think Quebec and California are natural allies. Montreal wants to play its part. 

This is the future—we don’t have any choice. If we want to make sure that we are efficient, we need that carbon market. The premier and the minister of the environment were clear on that. 

I think that kind of partnership and alliance can have a major impact for Quebec and California. I know that Mayor Garcetti is big on that. It’s efficient when we have a network of mayors. We can contribute and participate as allies and make the alliance stronger.

The Province of Ontario, which went fast-forward and then back-tracked in its commitment to a carbon market, leads us to ask if there is bipartisan support in Quebec on the importance of developing a carbon market. 

Frankly, the protection of our planet shouldn’t be a part-time thing. I don’t know about the other provinces, as they have several newly elected governements. But I know that we are pushing for that in my own province and city. 

Let’s turn to big events like the Climate Change 40 in New York. Ban Ki Moon and Michael Bloomberg are making the case that sustainable development is linked to municipal politics and policies, and that everything regarding urban issues has to be taken into account. 

We don’t define the world through countries or continents anymore. We have a saying in French: “It’s not the size of the axe that matters—it’s the strength of the swing.” If New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, Toronto, Paris, Istanbul, and Barcelona all stick together, that swing is big. 

From what I’ve witnessed here at my first CityLab, we are aiming in the same direction—toward innovation.

How important is CityLab—presented by Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Atlantic, and the Aspen Institute—in assisting mayors like yourself in using data to improve the delivery of city services? 

It’s important, because true leadership is not being afraid to ask for help. Sharing best practices means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel all of the time. You become stronger by collecting people with the same goal and the same values. 

We all share the notion that the future is within cities—from issues of immigration, to social inequities, to infrastructure, to sustainable development. Based on my experience and what I’m witnessing, this is not just a trend. 

I think that Bloomberg is a great leader and a man of vision. With the Aspen Institute and others, this provides the missing link that we needed. I salute every conference or organization that brings people together.

Share the value, if any, of your conversations here at CityLab with other cities’ mayors and policy experts. 

I don’t believe in empty chairs. If you want be relevant and be a player, you have to be there. 

I met Eric Garcetti for the first time at a Dodger’s game. We share a passion for baseball. I spoke with Barcelona’s leadership yesterday about aging societies, and with Long Beach’s about Formula-E. Mr. Bloomberg and I spoke about the international role of cities. 

I give my point of view. Today, because I am a former Minister of Immigration, I will talk to the audience about the future of integration within cities. 

I’ve collected tons of business cards. The beauty of a conference is not the first conversation, but the follow up. Then we’ll see who is for real.

I believe the world is at a crossroads. One of the reasons may be the Internet, because of connectivity. If you want to be a relevant and safe place, you’ll have to be a “smart city.”

Lastly, is there any pushback in Montreal and Quebec to a mayor relying more on data and technology to prioritize and deliver public services? 

I used to be the Sports Minister. Some people say you shouldn’t invest in sports, because it’s important to save beds in hospitals. I’ve said that it depends how you see it. Is that an expense or an investment? Are we focusing on tomorrow and on the next generation? 

True leadership is to go ahead, make a decision, and live with it. Frankly, we had turmoil in Montreal. We had big issues—corruption and collusion. We’ve changed that in 10 months and the smiles are back. Montreal is back. 

It’s a matter of attitude and of how to handle the pressure. If you build it, they will come. You cannot please everybody. Sometimes you have to make a decision and say, “Better to be unpopular than irresponsible.” After all those years in politics, I really believe that. 

People were freaking out when I spoke about Formula-E. They said “Wow, why?” Because we can have cars that run up to 225 kilometers per hour and are electric. I truly believe that communication matters—the way you talk with the people.

Act local, think global. That will create an impact for your citizens. 


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