François Legault has shoehorned his foot into his mouth, yet again. Last week it was his claim – in response to the growing affordable housing crisis – that the average rent in metropolitan areas in Quebec was $500-$600 a month. This week, it’s his inflexibility on pay raises for public sector workers.

In Quebec, we have an expression “Au Quebec, on syndique!” in other words, “In Quebec we unionize”. We are also in a pandemic where the gap between rich and poor is clearer than ever, and the definition of who counts as an essential worker is all the more obvious as a result.

It therefore came as a slap in the face to those same workers that Legault told government worker unions there is no money left to pay for pay raises. The Quebec government’s current offer to healthcare workers – called “guardian angels” by Legault – is a five percent pay raise over five years with an option for a further three percent if inflation exceeds the amount they’re offering. Higher pay raises are being offered to patient attendants in long-term care homes and first year teachers in an attempt to lure more people to these professions that are facing severe staffing shortages in Quebec.

The unions have said government offers are too little to accept, and Legault’s response is to cite pandemic-related public spending as grounds for the claim that his government cannot offer them more. In an age where unions are more important than ever in the face of mounting corporate greed, his remarks come as particularly insulting when he himself owns a multimillion dollar home in Outremont.

Since Legault’s callous remarks around residential renting costs, his government and the Coaltion Avenir du Quebec has been engaging in damage control. This can be seen in the Premier’s conspicuous absence from the press conference announcing the expansion of eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Every time Legault goes public on financial matters, his wealth and privilege shine through. This is a man who claims that he will do what the majority of Quebeckers want, yet his responses to issues surrounding poverty and people’s value stinks of the arrogance that comes with extreme wealth.

While I have zero interest in saving the Quebec premier’s reputation, I do have a suggestion of how Francois Legault and his party can save his ass from political blunders that have finally alienated their base:

Francois Legault should take a pay cut.

He should accept a reduction in his salary as premier and that amount should go straight into an offer of increased salaries for essential workers. A simple Google search reveals that Legault’s approximate net worth is about ten million dollars, so he clearly doesn’t need the money.

He wants to be a man of the people? He needs to prove it, and he needs to do it now!

Now I could bring up that since Quebec is already facing teaching shortages, suspending Bill 21 would be a fantastic way to attract more staff, but that’s not what this article is about. It’s about the population of Quebec facing mounting financial strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s about nurses, nurses’ aides, and other front line workers fed up with a rich man telling them what they can and cannot afford when they put themselves at risk of contracting the virus while he remains in safety. It’s about the fact that while homelessness is on the rise and buying a home is so far out of reach for most people, he owns a multimillion dollar home.

That said, I believe I speak on behalf of everyone in Quebec when I make this challenge to our illustrious premier:

Are you truly a man of the people? Prove it, Monsieur Legault, take a pay cut.

Homeless people are now exempt from Quebec’s 8pm to 5am curfew thanks to a ruling early this evening from the Quebec Superior Court. Judge Chantal Masse ruled that “the measure as worded would not apply to people experiencing homelessness” given that homeless people don’t have a home to go to at night.

Quebec Premier François Legault has repeatedly rejected calls from opposition leaders, the Mayor of Montreal, and others to give homeless people a curfew exemption. Now, with the ruling, his refusal is moot, at least until February 5th (the ruling exempts the homeless until then).

A group of legal-aid lawyers called the Clinique Juridique Itinérante brought the case on behalf of the homeless. Masse agreed with the plaintiffs, saying that “the measure infringes the right to life, liberty and security of the person protected by the Canadian and Quebec charters for people experiencing homelessness.”

There is no word on whether or not the Legault Government plans to appeal the decision.

Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

Quebec Premier François Legault rejected calls from all opposition parties in Quebec’s National Assembly and the Mayor of Montreal to exempt the homeless from the province’s 8pm to 5am curfew.

In a press conference today, the Premier said that if there was an exemption, people who weren’t homeless would essentially fake homelessness (tell police they were) to be able to walk around at night without getting a fine.

On Sunday, homeless man Raphael André’s body was found in a portable toilet near a homeless shelter that had recently been forced to not allow overnight stays. This prompted the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), Québec solidaire and the Parti Québécois to call on the premier to exempt the homeless from the province’s curfew.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante joined in the call this morning. It was her, though, that Legault directed his response, asking why she didn’t trust the SPVM (Montreal Police).

Legault stressed that the police aren’t there to ticket the homeless, but rather to direct them to the nearest shelter. Homeless advocates said that the SPVM had issued at least six tickets to the homeless in the curfew’s first week.

Well, it’s not the kind of video that will warm your heart on such a cold day, but it may just make your blood boil. With the windchill, it’s currently -40 degrees in Montreal, but that didn’t stop SPVM officer Gauthier from threatening to tie a homeless man to a poll outside for an hour.

In this video, originally shared on Facebook by Adis Simidzija, we don’t get the beginning of the altercation, but we do hear Gauthier saying that the man, clearly not well clothed for the weather, was being aggressive. Then we get the threat, that if he doesn’t stop, Gauthier will tie him to a poll outside for an hour.

Regardless of what the man was doing (except killing someone, which he clearly wasn’t), threatening to tie someone up outside in this weather is akin to threatening to beat him up or shoot him. It is an inexcusable threat of cruel violence by this officer.

See for yourself:

A Montreal bar owner made quite an impression this week when he announced the creation of a coalition of business owners to combat homelessness in the downtown.

In an article on the CBC about the coalition, Peter Sergakis, owner of Station des Sports and Sky Bar, among other bars, was made to appear as though he was waging “war on homeless people” and that he was only out for his own interests.

A frustrated Sergakis spoke to Forget the Box today, denying any war on homeless people.

“It’s not a war,” he said. “Those people [the homeless] need help and we have to provide for them. I am declaring war maybe on the government of Quebec. I haven’t heard a word from all of the [politicians] when I press the issue because they don’t get votes from them.

Asked to describe in detail what he hopes to do with his coalition, Sergakis says he will announce plans in a couple weeks after members have a chance to meet. One of the major functions of the group will be to raise funds to donate to various organizations that work with homeless people.

Herman Alves, an associate of Sergakis, said that they are looking into holding fundraisers one day a year at all six Station des Sports in Montreal area. All money made on these days will be put toward the coalition.

“I really believe that the homeless [steal food] because they are hungry—so lets give them food,” he said. “Lets feed them on a daily basis so they don’t have to steal or take things from the tourists.”

Word of Sergakis’s empathy for homeless people was a surprise to Dorothy Massimo, director of development and communications at Dans la Rue, an organization that supports homeless people in Montreal.

“Wow, that’s very, very, very different from what he said [in previous interviews],” Massimo said upon hearing about Sergakis’s plans.

“If we have this very influential business person who wants to work side by side with us to eliminate the problem […] it would be an amazing force. I welcome a call from him. I would love to sit at the table with him,” she said.

Sergakis said he would like to see Dans la Rue be open 24 hours a day, five days a week, to help with the homeless people he says are harassing customers on his terraces.

Though Massimo agrees that having Dans la Rue open 24 hours would be beneficial to the community, she says that it would take way more money than they currently receive as donations from individuals—their main source of revenue.

She also cautions against pushing the homeless away from downtown.

“If you push them farther away, then the situation is just going to get worse,” she said.

“It’ll work for the summer to get them away from the terraces, and the problem will look like it’s solved. If [Sergakis] is really looking for a long-term solution, I suggest he work with the community that is providing those services to the homeless.”

* Look for a full video interview with Sergakis and others this Tuesday on Forget The Box.

CKUT 90.3 will be holding their 9th annual Homelessness Marathon starting at 5pm on Wednesday February 23rd until Thursday morning in front of the Native Friendship Center (2001 Saint-Laurent boulevard). Year after year, the CKUT Homelessness Marathon gives a voice to the homeless and those who work to help them. On the marathon’s agenda are topics addressing urban poverty and homelessness over a 14 hour stretch of people-powered radio.

courtesey of ckut.ca

The marathon serves as a spotlight for those relating their experiences, struggles and successes within the issues of poverty and homelessness. By bringing together radio hosts, CLSC social workers and organizations like Cactus, the marathon also serves as a testimony of hope and proof of the collective action that’s happening on the streets of Montreal. Some of the marathon’s other partners, which include the Peoples’ Potato, Midnight Kitchen and Santropol are teaming up to offer coffee and food to attendees, passersby and volunteer staff in front of the Native Friendship center (which will be open 24 hours during this all-night event).

The marathon, which is completely run by volunteers, street-level social workers and dozens of partner radio stations across the country, primarily seeks to bring homelessness and poverty to the forefront of public dialogue. Gretchen King, the national coordinator for the Homelessness Marathon, affirms that homelessness and poverty “are issues that touch every one of us.” The Marathon’s mandate, in King’s words, is “to develop an awareness and a political willingness” which have a potential to lead to more action, and thus more results, than playing the political game or collecting funds.

The first homelessness marathon was the brainchild of New Yorker radio host Jeremy Alderson. Alderson states on the U.S. Marathon’s homepage that fundamental changes in the nation’s priorities are necessary to make considerable progress and “the mission of the marathon is to ignite a national dialogue about what these changes should be.” Ultimately, ending homelessness is not a matter of charity, but a matter of changing the way our society is structured.

King also attributes the continuation of poverty to the endless push-back of this topic on the public and political agenda, stating that the government is increasingly taking a back seat on development of social housing and “are obviously not engaged in really dealing with the structural and social issues surrounding homelessness.”

2009 image of the Marathon courtesy of tasteyourfreedomthefilm.com/tyfblog/

With homeless shelters overflowing and an estimated 30 000 homeless people living in Montreal in 2010 according to L’Itinéraire‘s editor in chief (February 2011), homelessness and poverty should be hot topics in the Government’s agenda during these cold winter months. Despite the evidence of a growing need for more government funding to build and maintain social housing, day centers and other resources for the homeless, spending for the social sphere is inadequate for the demand that presents itself (Info RAPSIM, L’Itinéraire Feb. 2011).

The statistics of homelessness in Montreal are as dismal as having to stay outside all night in one of the coldest countries in the world. King describes the experience of spending the night outside during the diffusion of the Marathon’s programming as “brutal… You lose your ability to speak fluidly. But being outside is a part of what I want to take in [from the marathon].”

While the topic of homelessness comes very close to home for many Montrealers, this tough topic is tagged with a lot of hope coming from the Marathon crew. “If we can take these 14 hours and translate that into 365 day experience, we’d treat the issue [of homelessness] completely different” (King).

For a full list of program topics, coordinates, and instructions for the live stream, visit http://ckut.ca/homeless/ for more details. You’re encouraged to tune in or show up and contribute (live!) to the marathon in order to take in the full experience.

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9th Annual Homelessness Marathon – Wednesday 5pm until Thursday 7am @ the Native Friendship Center (2001 Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Saint-Laurent metro). CKUT Contact : Gretchen King, marathon@ckut.ca.

Native Friendship Center (2001 Saint-Laurent boulevard) – http://www.nfcm.org/

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