Westmount Mayor Peter Trent stepping down after quarter century

Westmount Mayor Peter Trent stepping down after quarter century

Westmount's longtime mayor, Peter Trent, said getting the city its independence back after it was forced to merge into the Montreal "megacity" is the achievement for which he'll be most remembered.

Trent, 71, announced Monday he would step down after 25 years as mayor — "or mayor in exile, during the mergers," he said.  

Between 1999 and 2004, Trent was fighting to prevent the merger and then, once it happened, to get Westmount its municipal status back.

Also high on his list of achievements is the construction of the Westmount Recreation Centre — the first underground arena in the world, which was completed in 2013.

Trent said he trusts his instincts, and he thinks this is the right time to pass the role of mayor onto someone younger.

"I didn't want to get stale, and I'm really quite happy with what I've done," Trent said.

Municipal politics 'contaminated terrain'

In his years as mayor, Trent has earned the nickname "Mr. Clean," for standing up to corruption.

He said it's difficult to say if Montreal is less corrupt now than it was years ago, since "corruption has always almost been endemic in the city of Montreal."

He said it's important that politicians never let their guard down.

One of his most memorable feuds was with former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, once known as the "King of Laval."

In 2010, Vaillancourt was being investigated by provincial police following serious allegations of improprieties.

Vaillancourt's integrity was under serious scrutiny, so Trent demanded he step down from the executive of the Union des Municipalités du Québec (UMQ), on which they both served.

When Vaillancourt refused, Trent stepped down himself, saying the members of the UMQ's executive committee should always be models of exemplary behaviour.

When Vaillancourt was arrested in 2013 and charged with fraud, breach of trust and conspiracy to commit fraud, Trent called Quebec's municipal arena "contaminated terrain."

In December 2016, Vaillancourt was sentenced to six years in prison.

Trent says it's hard to weed out corruption completely, blaming a "lack of chutzpah in the structures in the city of Montreal" that allows it to grow.

He wants to see more politicians speaking out against corruption so people don't lose faith in the system.

"I hope a few people will look at me and think, you can retain your ethics and be an elected official," said Trent. "It is possible."

Unfinished business

Trent isn't planning on leaving the city and will be available to help in the transition to an interim mayor.

An election is coming up in November, and Trent said he wants there to be a transition period before a new mayor is elected.

He wouldn't comment on who he thinks should take his place, but he said he is leaving with the knowledge that the city will be in good hands. 

He said that his successor will find out that while Westmount isn't a hotbed of political activism, its citizens can still be quite demanding.

"I liked working for the Westmount citizenry. They certainly are articulate and make their views known," Trent said.

Whoever takes over the mayor's job can expect some headaches over new real estate developments around the McGill University Health Centre.

Trent says some residents are concerned about "overbuilding," as high rises pop up.

Westmount's 1927 greenhouse also sits closed, awaiting extensive renovations.

"Unfortunately, there are no greenhouse builders around," Trent said.

What's next?

Trent said he expects Westmount city council will ask him to bow out in a week or two.

Trent has served five terms as mayor, starting in 1991. Prior to that he was a councillor, starting in 1983.

Trent says he hasn't thought too much about what to do next but is toying with the idea of writing another book.

In 2012, McGill-Queen's University Press published his book The Merger Delusion: How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal.

Trent said he might try his hand at fiction next.