Municipal election looms over controversial Formula E race

Denis Coderre stood firm Tuesday in his decision to host the Formula E electric car races in Montreal's downtown, despite fierce criticism from his political rival.

Coderre claimed Tuesday Montreal wasn't the only city to spend public money to host Formula E

Formula E cars at a Beijing race in 2014. The first Montreal version of the series will be held this weekend. (Barry Huang/Reuters)

Mayor Denis Coderre hailed the City of Montreal for its "audacity" in hosting the upcoming Formula E electric-car race, an event that is quickly turning into a de-facto referendum on his vision for the city.

Coderre's political rivals have accused him of misusing taxpayer dollars to host the event, while business owners say they're losing money and residents complain it's disrupting the city.

"Of course it takes audacity, of course it takes sacrifices," Coderre said Tuesday in a news conference at City Hall. 

"Should we have said no to this kind of event? Should we have let that happen?" he said. "Since when do we refuse challenges in Montreal? If we want to work in the context of this new culture of electrification, why wouldn't we try to take advantage of that?"

Montrealers should look at the race as an investment in green technology and a showcase for the city on the world stage, he said.

"Let's have fun, let's be proud again. Montreal is on the map, it's an investment for the long term," he said.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre on Formula E

CBC News Montreal

4 years ago
"To govern is to choose." 0:25

Coderre has been talking about bringing a Formula E event to the city since at least the spring of 2015. He had originally planned to host an event for 2016, as a warm-up for the city's 375th anniversary celebrations.

Montreal agreed to host the event for three years, with an option of holding it for three additional years. 

"Give it a chance. This event, for me, is important," Coderre said. 

Municipal election nears

On Tuesday, Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante — Coderre's chief rival for City Hall — held a news conference with several business owners who have been negatively affected by the event.

"To close the downtown, as this administration has chosen to do for the duration of Formula E, was a bad idea," she said.

Valérie Plante, leader of Projet Montréal, said if elected mayor in November she would move the Formula E races from the city's downtown to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. (Radio-Canada)

Plante said if elected mayor in the municipal elections in November, she'd move future Formula E races to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, where she says they belong.

Coderre countered by saying the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve would've needed modifications to host the Formula E, because the track usually hosts Formula One races, and those modifications would've cost tens of millions of dollars.

Plante was also critical of the cost of the event, and said that she'd renegotiate the city's deal with the race organizers. It was bad negotiating on Coderre's part, she said, that led to the event's $24 million price-tag being paid by taxpayers.

The Projet Montréal leader added that the compensation offered by the city to affected businesses ($2,000 each) isn't enough, especially after the city spent $7.5 million on new concrete barriers to line the race track. 

Coderre said that since the city has signed up to hold Formula E races for three years, with the option of three more, the cost of the barriers should be considered an investment, not an expense.

"This is an investment, this is a great investment for the future," he said. 

"We are making sure that, at the end of the day, you will have some impact attached to it. It's not just a race, it's not just an event, it's ... a laboratory of experience, it's R and D, it's electrification and we truly believe that at the end of the day it's going to be another great success for Montreal." 


Andrea Bellemare is a reporter and producer with CBC News who currently focuses on disinformation, tech and privacy. She helped launch the new CBC Kitchener-Waterloo radio station in 2013, reported for CBC Montreal and produced radio docs for CBC Radio. She has also reported for the wire service Agence France-Presse.