Montreal mayoral contender Louise Harel steps out of race

MONTREAL – A prominent politician has bowed out of Montreal’s mayoral race.

Louise Harel says she will run only for a seat on council.

The leader of the main opposition party at city hall says she will back a coalition candidate — Marcel Cote, an economist believed to have support from different parties.

Harel essentially admitted that she couldn’t penetrate the electorate in the western — mostly English-speaking — half of the city.

A former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister and staunch sovereigntist, Harel had drawn the ire of many suburban Montrealers when she was the municipal affairs minister who created the merged mega-city more than a decade ago.

In response to criticism at the time, she singled out the wealthy suburb of Westmount over what she called “its anglo-British character, its old stench of colonialism.”

That may have left her unelectable in a city-wide race.

Not only did Harel lose the 2009 vote to the scandal-plagued party of Gerald Tremblay, a former provincial Liberal minister, recent polls place her far behind Denis Coderre, a former federal Liberal.

“It’s an open secret that I had some trouble penetrating the western part of the island,” Harel said. She said Cote was the kind of candidate who could be more successful at “rallying the west and east.”

The move to recruit Cote is seen as an attempt to block Coderre.

The former federal immigration minister is the current front-runner to win the November election. The victor will become Montreal’s fourth mayor in just over a year, following an interim one and two others who quit in scandal.