With Denis Coderre gone, his old party Ensemble Montréal has announced who its new interim leader will be.
Longtime Saint-Laurent councillor Aref Salem has won the opportunity to lead the official opposition at city hall.
“You’re going to find me a person that is really human and down to earth,” he said at a press conference Tuesday.
As the new interim leader of the opposition, he will be tasked with holding mayor Valérie Plante and her Projet Montréal party accountable at city council.
“We’re going to work together with the administration to make Montreal better, more human,” he said.
Born in Lebanon, Salem has been a city councillor in the Saint-Laurent borough since 2009. He held prominent positions in the Coderre administration from 2013 to 2017. In a secret ballot vote, the 38 elected members of Ensemble Montréal chose him to rebuild their party after a crushing loss to Plante.
He said he will prepare the party for the next election in 2025, in hopes it can win back control of the city.
“I will prepare the party to be attractive to a newcomer, for a new leader,” he said.
Saint-Laurent borough mayor and Ensemble Montréal member Alan DeSousa has worked alongside Salem for over a decade. He lauded Salem’s broad experience.
“I am very glad that he put his name forward. I encouraged him to do so,” said DeSousa.
“Aref is a someone who brings people together. He knows his files in depth. He’s a very hard worker, and I think he doesn’t have too many enemies.”
Pierrefonds-Roxboro mayor Jim Beis told Global News he had people telling him to run for party leader, but running his borough is his primary focus.
“I had a lot of support to put my name in the running, certainly. I chose that at this moment in time, my primary focus is to be the mayor of Pierrefonds-Roxboro and to do the work that we’ve done for the last number of years,” said Beis.
He said he believes under Salem’s leadership, Ensemble Montréal will be equipped to fulfill its important role as opposition.
One of the first things Salem will be paying close attention to as the leader of Ensemble Montréal is the recounts his party has requested in a few tightly-contested election races, including in RDP-Pointe-Aux-Trembles and Côte-des-Neiges-NDG.
“We had some reason to believe that was something that we should go until the end and make sure the procedure was really clean,” said Salem.
Among the results Salem is hoping the courts will overturn is former Ensemble Montréal leader Lionel Perez’s loss to Gracia Kasoki Katahwa in the NDG-Côte-des-Neiges mayoral race by 212 votes, and Gabriel Retta’s 97-vote loss in the Loyola district.
Ensemble Montréal is also hoping for reversals in Caroline Bourgeois RDP-Pointe-Aux-Trembles mayoral victory by 303 votes, and Projet Montréal’s Lisa Christensen winning her east end seat by just 13 votes.
“We think that that there was some faults, like you know, in the counting,” he said.
It’s the first of many uphill battles Salem can expect over the next four years.