Michel Martelly was a political novice when he assumed Haiti’s presidency in 2011, a year after the earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation. Originally finishing in third place, he was entered into a second-round run-off – which he won – after a rival was forcibly withdrawn on corruption charges.
A mulat, part of Haiti’s lighter-skinned minority, Martelly is arguably better known for the two decades he spent as Sweet Micky, one of the country’s most popular compas singers. Nowadays he may have swapped the cross-dressing bikini look and the nappy that he used to wear on stage for more sombre attire but he maintains an air of informality as president, influenced by the grassroots appeal he enjoyed as a musician.
“During Carnaval he has been one of the few presidents that has run into the masses and danced with them,” says Robert Fatton Jr, a Haiti-born politics professor at the University of Virginia in the US.
Martelly continues to court controversy, nonetheless: detractors accuse him of mingling with convicted criminals, eulogising recently deceased ex-dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier and encouraging an impasse – now resolved – over delayed elections to secure his grip on power. Despite all these apparent troubles, Martelly enters his final year in office with an approval rating of 57 per cent, according to a poll published in April. That the same poll shows 70 per cent of those questioned believe the country is heading in the wrong direction is a paradox that only Sweet Micky could provoke.
After a tumultuous four years under infamous crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford, Toronto is beginning to revert to its quieter, more modest self under his successor: the former broadcaster and business executive John Tory.
You campaigned on improving civic discourse at City Hall. How’s that going?
It’s a work in progress. I didn’t expect we’d change things over night. [People] know I’m serious by the way I behave. I don’t heckle and I try not to grandstand. I have quietly and politely admonished my colleagues in council and said, “Look, we have a lot of work to do to have a more productive and civilised kind of debate.”
How will you deal with the cost overruns and missed deadlines affecting infrastructure projects?
Too often people want these projects to get approved so they don’t do a very precise job in estimating the cost. Then, especially on the glamorous projects, politicians get their hands on it and start changing it. And just like your house renovations, if you’re changing it every hour all the way through, it’s going to cost you a lot more money.
What can you do as mayor to ensure that Toronto remains an affordable city?
The key to that is more secure, less precarious employment. If you raise the quality of employment, so the majority of jobs are not contract jobs, you are going to make it more possible for people to live in the city. I can’t singlehandedly roll back rents or the cost of housing; those prices are set by the market. What I can do is draw more investment and jobs here so that the city is thriving economically.