Published in the Montreal Gazette on July 2, 2014

Here we go again.

Just when some of us were beginning to think that the city’s historic place names were at last safe from the longing hands of local politicians, Mayor Denis Coderre unwisely resurrects the idea of re-naming a street after late Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa (“Coderre plans to honour Bourassa with street named after former premier”, Gazette, Thursday, June 26, 2014).

What concerns me the most about Coderre’s decision (as reported in the Gazette) to pursue this goal is his words, “If we have done it for others, we should do so for him.”

I would presume “by others” that His Worship is most likely referring to René Lévesque and the unfortunate 1987 saga of changing the name of Dorchester Boulevard to that of another late premier for whom part of the population (and another sitting mayor) had a great fondness.

When Mayor Gérald Tremblay single handedly selected Bleury Street and Park Avenue to be altered to commemorate the life of Robert Bourassa, he was quick to reject any other proposal. In effect, he stubbornly argued that the chosen thoroughfare had to be equal in importance to that picked to pay homage to Mr. Lévesque. In that regard, I would think that Mayor Coderre is thinking the same way.

So we can forget about the possibility that the city administration is looking at a minor road – let’s say Adam Street in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve – to name after the late premier. For legacy purposes, it must be as significant as the former Dorchester Boulevard was when it was ‘rebaptized’ 27 years ago.

When Coderre asserts that Robert Bourassa was “one of our greatest premiers”, I respectfully suggest that this evaluation might be the result of the mayor’s own political bias, just as former Mayor Jean Doré was partial in favour of Lévesque for the latter two shared a similar way of thinking on the great issues of the day – particularly Quebec independence. It’s always best that politicians leave historical evaluations to historians while they focus more on their own administrative responsibilities.

In short, historic Montreal toponymy should not be within the reach of the opinionated preferences of transitory politicians.

The changing of street names, which is all too frequent in this town, has become a partisan game with each new mayor wanting to honour his own political mentor. I would remind Mayor Coderre that there is already a Bibliothèque Robert Bourassa in Outremont, which is now a borough of the City of Montreal. It strikes me that having a library named after oneself is a great honour in itself.

If, however, Denis Coderre were serious about this question, I would recommend that he find another way to pay tribute to the wonderful human being that was undoubtedly Robert Bourassa. Creating something new, rather than extinguishing something that is old, should be the road to go in this regard.

For instance, I have often thought that the new French language super hospital might appropriately be dubbed ‘CHUM Robert Bourassa’, to mark the late premier’s pivotal role, along with that of Claude Castonguay, in bringing Quebec into the federal medicare scheme in 1970. Surely Mayor Coderre, with his Liberal connections in Quebec City, could bring that about.

Be all that as it may, the altering of celebrated municipal toponymy causes offense to our past and is a great inconvenience to those who live on the targeted thoroughfare. It is also an unnecessary expense undertaken at a time when a good number of cities are struggling to make ends meet. It is for these reasons that most municipalities do all in their power to avoid such actions.

I am very much afraid that should Mayor Coderre proceed any further with this idea, no matter how hard he tries, he will create unpleasant division within the population and, ultimately, like Gérald Tremblay, abandon the ill-conceived idea altogether.