Peter Trent – former Westmount Mayor to act as municipal election commentator for CTV and The Gazette

Leader of the demerger movement will offer weekly commentary on CTV with Mitsumi Takahashi and Tara Schwartz during the campaign and on election night, November 5th 

Peter Trent had an immensely successful business career before getting into municipal politics in Westmount, where he served a Mayor for approximately 25 years. “I felt that it was time for generational change in Westmount, time for a younger person representing the new generation of young families in Westmount.” Peter has endorsed the incumbent Christina Smith, who was the unanimous choice of the Westmount City Council in the spring.

Montreal’s largest English-language media outlets, CTV and The Gazette have both invited Peter to comment on the municipal elections during October, with a special election night wrap-up on CTV. It’s largely due to his tenacity in pursuing the demerger campaign that we have autonomous elected municipal administrations in cities like Westmount, Montreal West, Cote St-Luc, Hampstead, Pointe-Claire, and Beaconsfield. At one time, Peter Trent was the only person actively pursuing the fight to allow the citizens of the merged cities to vote to return to their previous status or to remain within the mega-city.

That experience as the ‘champion’ of the demerged cities and his long service as Mayor of Westmount have contributed to his high profile on the subject of municipal politics. Peter is also an excellent and articulate communicator – especially important on live television broadcasts.

Peter Trent is best known in his capacity as Mayor of Westmount and as the leader of the anti-merger forces. After Bill 170 was passed in 2000, Trent continued to campaign for demerger, leading to legislation permitting municipal referendums for those cities who wished to reclaim their status. It was a lonely battle after the Bill 170 passed in the National Assembly, and Peter was disappointed by former allies who joined the mega-city political elite. “I was angry and I decided that by writing a book, I could transform that anger into something positive.”

The Merger Delusion by Peter Trent was published in the fall of 2012 in English and French. The sub-title; How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal is a direct reference to the high cost of the merged and even de-merged cities; and how the system of municipal political parties has fueled corruption in too many communities across the island of Montreal. Trent states; “The de-merged cities and towns were not returned to their previous status – in conflict with the election promises of the Liberals who campaigned on a promise to allow de-mergers. Even PQ stalwart Bernard Landry is on record as saying that the forced mergers cost his party 20 seats in the National Assembly when they lost to the Liberals in the 2003 provincial election.”

Peter Trent

Peter F. Trent built a successful business; served as Mayor of Westmount for 25 years (including various MUC Committees), wrote a scholarly book and may return to writing in his retirement

The Merger Delusion received solid reviews, and has caused several well-known Francophone journalists who were pro-merger to now admit that they were wrong, and that they owe their readers an apology for supporting the forced mergers. In fact, Peter notes that the studies done by the PQ and other independent researchers all came to the same conclusion – that mergers were not a good idea and would increase costs. “I hesitate to use the word ‘lie’, its provocative – but they certainly were not telling us the truth!”

At 25, Peter established a company with Raymond Charlebois in 1972, and during the next 18 years they built the company from a two man partnership to a 50,000 square foot facility on a 13 acre site on The West Island. They invented polymer composite materials used in construction and engineering, and took out patents in dozens of countries.

“It was hard to build that company, and I had many sleepless nights worrying about raising money and sometimes even meeting the payroll. I raised over $50 million to finance the growth of the company – which was difficult at the beginning when we didn’t have a profit to show.” It was a process that also developed his intellectual strength and personal courage.

At various times during our conversations, I’ve been impressed by Peter Trent’s level of courage. In discussing obstacles that had to be overcome in business and latterly in his political career, it became apparent (perhaps without his realization) that it took courage to build a company from nothing, to develop and sell inventions, and in his political career to make a stand based on morality rather than expediency. He described his decisions and subsequent actions without any expression of bravado. Simply stated – for him it was a case of doing the right thing.

And not without personal cost – especially during the campaign to stop the forced mergers. “The French media and PQ did their best to turn the merger debate into a language debate. But it was really about home owners not wanting to see their taxes go up. On the south shore, and in other cities throughout the province, mainly Francophone populations of homeowners were also against the mergers. Language was certainly not an issue is those instances. But I was vilified.”

Peter has a refreshing view of the role of municipal governments. “Our job as stewards is to provide services for our citizens; to make sure that the roads and sidewalks are in good shape, that the water is clean, snow removed, parks and public buildings maintained. A municipality takes in taxes and should give that money back to the citizens in the form of services.” Peter uses Montreal’s one-hundred-year-old aqueduct as an example. “Instead of fixing the water delivery system – we spent billions on the Olympics for a two-week event.”

“With sixty-four members, Montreal has the largest city council in North America. The maximum we should have is 18 or 19. The provincial government has created a parliamentary system in City Hall. The council is far too large to be effective, and so we have an Executive Committee that is the equivalent of a Cabinet. We have a Speaker and an Opposition in Montreal. That’s no way to run a city.”

“Next – we don’t need political parties in Municipal politics. It causes politicians to be loyal to their party rather than answer to the citizenry. And of course there is the need to finance a party, and we saw the results of that with the testimonies at the Charbonneau Commission.”

“Municipal governments are fundamental to our democracy. It’s the one level of government that citizens can be close to – where you can attend the local council meeting and address the council. At any given council meeting we have 15 – 50 people. That would be equivalent to 4,000 people coming to a City of Montreal council meeting! The only way to address Montreal City Hall is through a lobbyist.”

“A person’s feeling of attachment to their community promotes volunteerism. People will only do that if they’re engaged, and that only works in smaller cities.”

Peter is adamant that municipalities need more people with business experience on council. “A City Council is like a Board of Directors, and you need people with business experience and acumen who know oversight, who know what to look for when managing Montreal’s $5 billion dollar budget. Most of the people we have now are either career politicians or well-meaning people who don’t have that background. I’m not saying that they all have to have business experience – but at least having some would create a better balance.”

CTV Election Commentary

Peter Trent will provide commentary on CTV with Tarah Schwartz at 11:30 PM every Sunday during the election. After starting on October 1, the programs will continue on October 8, 15, 22, 29 and conclude on November 5, which will also includes a program at 6 pm.

Peter will also appear with Marlene Jennings to form a municipal panel anchored by Mutsumi Takahashi at noon on October 11, 19, 25, November 2 and 6.

Peter Trent occupied a front row seat and his first-hand account of the people and events he chronicled in The Merger Delusion: How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal; a fascinating look inside Montreal’s political machinery. Perhaps unintentionally, this book is also a chronicle of one man’s sense of civic duty, integrity and courage as he campaigns for what he believes is right. You’ll be able to see Peter Trent on CTV twice a week during the lead-up to the November 5th Municipal Elections.

Assessment of Coderre and his regime after four years.

Overall approach

  1. Refreshing after Bourque’s and Tremblay’s obsession with merger/demerger
  2. Needed to clean house re: corruption. Still; like a weed, it requires constant application of herbicide to keep it down.
  3. Megacity Montreal is structurally extremely difficult to govern.
  4. Post-merger, Montreal is even more heterogeneous: from Ile Bizard to Montreal North to LaSalle to Anjou: clienteles that are a world away from the preoccupations of Ville-Marie and Le Plateau. Coderre is better at holding such a mixed bag together than is Candidate Valérie Plante.
  5. Project Montreal has not undergone a necessary Plateau-ectomy.
  6. Overall performance: high marks (except 375th), but Coderre will need ego-restraining devices in next mandate

Personality and style

  1. Pragmatic, not dogmatic
  2. Demands loyalty, even fealty
  3. Man of his word for colleagues
  4. Own worst enemy. Ebullient, impetuous, heart on sleeve. Needs to take deep breath
  5. One-man show. Control freak.
  6. Genuinely likes people, but wants to be liked, too
  7. Energetic, thorough


  1. The 375th celebrations were a royal cock-up. Coderre should have come clean about mess. Compared with Jean Doré’s 350th celebrations (I was mayor then, too!), which were as smooth as silk.
  2. Allowed too much centralization. All bureaucrats want to centralize: it’s what they do. Decentralization is messier, but more responsive and allows for tailor-making services. As I predicted in 2004, boroughs have constantly lost power over local services since demerger: snow removal standards, arterial roads, parking policy, human resources, labour negotiations, IT, communications, building management, large-scale zoning, and purchasing.
  3. Most observers unaware of his superb job of getting a team together. Best executive committee since Doré. Anie Samson, Harout Chitilian, Russell Copeman, Lionel Perez (especially), Richard Bergeron. People forget how amateurish most of Bourque’s and Tremblay’s executive-committee members were.
  4. Big tent, not partisan. Recognizes ability to contribute.

Future Tasks for the Mayor of Montreal

  1. Essence of mayor’s job is not political. A municipality is a service enterprise. Montreal takes in $5 billion of revenue (mostly property taxes) and returns money in the form of services. Not a political act. Needs a Lucien Saulnier (could have been the late Marcel Coté) to provide non-political counterpoint. Coderre is too political.
  2. According to the Institut de la statistique du Québec, Quebec municipalities with a population of more than 25,000 pay their employees, all in, 41.5% more than the rest of the public sector. Obviously, with the City of Montreal, it’s even higher. Coderre has proven he can stand up to the unions.
  3. Need to break down impenetrable wall between Administration and political elements.

Related Posts