June 2018: When Demers and De Cotis split up

David De Cotis says he has no regrets for deserting the Mouvement lavallois

While a common piece of wisdom maintains that time heals old wounds, former Laval executive-committee vice-president David De Cotis says he has no regrets for giving up the city’s second most powerful job. He says that in doing so two years ago, he was pursuing a more principled vision, compared to the outlook of Mayor Marc Demers’s Mouvement lavallois.

A date to remember

June 5, 2018 is a date that stands out significantly in the long timeline of events since the Mouvement lavallois was first swept into office in the November 2013 municipal elections.

Although Mayor Demers’s party had smooth sailing during its first five years, the June 2018 city council meeting marked the first time that a major rift opened up within the administration’s ranks. And it was a fissure that hasn’t completely healed to date.

In the June revolt, Demers saw his party reduced temporarily to minority status during a momentous city council meeting that was nothing less than a meltdown.

Surrounded by opposition city councillors, former Laval executive-committee vice-president David De Cotis speaks to journalists following the June 2018 council meeting when a group of Mouvement lavallois councillors decided to break away from the party. Photo: Martin C. Barry, Laval News

At the boiling point

In a manifestation of what seemingly had been building for months, De Cotis – who was executive-committee vice-president at that point, as well as founder of the Mouvement lavallois – emerged as the apparent leader of a dissident faction of councillors who decided to break away from the Mouvement lavallois.

To refresh people’s memories, the ML council dissenters at that time included De Cotis, Michel Poissant, Daniel Hébert, Vasilios Karidogiannis, Aline Dib, Paolo Galati, Sandra El-Hélou, Isabella Tassoni, Jocelyne Frédéric-Gauthier and later also councillor Aram Elagoz.

A sudden shift in events

With the 10 ML defectors, opposition councillors Aglaia Revelakis of Action Laval and Claude Larochelle of the Parti Laval brought the total number of opposition councillors to 12, leaving the Mouvement lavallois in a very sudden and perilous minority position on the 21-member council (not including the mayor who technically has a tie-breaking vote).

On the morning of June 6, the mayor removed De Cotis from the executive-committee. While noting that he had appreciated being deputy mayor and vice-president of the executive-committee, De Cotis refused at the time to say what specifically led to the rift between himself and Demers.

Why De Cotis left?

In subsequent interviews, De Cotis has suggested that he was simply fed up with the direction the administration was going in – although, as it turns out, there was a specific breaking point. Part of the reason at least appeared to be tied to the mayor’s decision not to reappoint De Cotis as president of the Société de transport de Laval, a position De Cotis had held during the ML’s first mandate from 2013 to 2017.

As such, on June 7, 2018, when the newly-strengthened council opposition gathered for a morning sitting of city council and seemed poised to flex their collective muscle for the first time, De Cotis tabled a resolution, calling for him to be placed back in the presidency of the Société de transport de Laval.

Preparing for the meltdown

At the same time, a notice of motion was adopted stating that a resolution would be tabled calling for future nominations to council committees to be handled by the members of city council, rather than only by the mayor and the executive-committee.

All of this seemingly was only a preparation for the unprecedented meltdown De Cotis would undergo during the September 2018 meeting of city council. By this time, the mayor was on the verge of reversing De Cotis’s previous appointment as head of the STL in order to name a councillor of his own choosing.

This development came about only after the mayor was able to persuade some of the dissident ML councillors, following several weeks of closed-door meetings and discussions with them, to return into his camp.

Demers cast doubts on De Cotis

All the same, the vote during the September council meeting was almost deadlocked. Council speaker Christiane Yoakim, who normally doesn’t vote, was forced to support her party, the ML, so that the motion could pass. (It should be noted that councillors Vasilios Karidogiannis, Aline Dib, Sandra El-Hélou, Jocelyne Frédéric-Gauthier and Aram Elagoz have since then returned to the Mouvement lavallois.)

Following this, and after the mayor gave explanations for appointing Morasse, while casting serious doubts on De Cotis’s abilities while in charge of the STL, De Cotis gave full vent to what he had obviously been holding back for months.

Said mayor was telling lies

Speaking out of turn, and in defiance of the official speaker’s admonishments, De Cotis said, “What he [the mayor] is saying is lies. You are accusing me of having badly managed the STL and it is exactly the opposite.” De Cotis continued in this vein until Yoakim was about to signal two Laval Police officers that he should be removed. He then gradually contained himself and finally went silent.

After this, things were looking up for Action Laval. By March 2019, and nearly a year after bolting from the Mouvement lavallois, the five remaining ML dissenters, who had been sitting as independents, finally announced they would be joining the Action Laval caucus. They joined Action Laval city councillor for Chomedey Aglaia Revelakis. While the Parti Laval had Official Opposition status, Action Laval now outnumbered the Parti Laval caucus.

Action Laval loses its edge

However, Action Laval’s favourable position was not to last. This past May, Poissant and Hébert announced they were leaving the party to sit once again as independents. This followed the suspension from the Action Laval caucus of Galati, Tassoni and De Cotis who were the object of claims (originating in e-mails leaked from city hall) that they were involved in ethically questionable real estate transactions.

While the three have to date been cleared by the Quebec Municipal Commission, De Cotis is still waiting to hear from UPAC (Quebec’s Unité permanente anticorruption), who interviewed him but who are admittedly better at publicizing their interventions than they are at exonerating those they investigate.

Would do it again, says De Cotis

Looking back during an interview this week with The Laval News on his decision two years ago, De Cotis said, “I would do the same thing over again. It was a decision based on principles and moral values.

“I have a much clearer state of mind now because of that, knowing that what I did was for the right reasons and knowing full well what it would cost me,” he continued. “But I was never there for the titles or for the prestige, the position or salary.”

De Cotis maintained that the Mouvement lavallois’s founding principles aren’t being followed in the way they were originally conceived in 2008, and that the party is no longer “going in the right direction, is not doing things for the right reasons and not doing things for the citizens of Laval. I think they’ve lost track of that.”

Mayor satisfied with his caucus

For his part, Mayor Marc Demers issued the following statement to The Laval News when asked for his thoughts on everything that has happened since 2018. “I am fully satisfied with the caucus I have now,” he said.

“Each member plays a useful part, is devoted, diligent and efficient. Our team spirit is strong, we work together in respect and collegiality. And I feel entirely satisfied to be working at the heart of a group that is determined to see our beautiful city progress.”