Panelists Lyle Stewart and Cem Ertekin discuss new Projet Montréal Leader Valérie Plante and the upcoming film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with host Jason C. McLean.

News Roundup Topics: Standing Rock (temporary?) victory, Trudeau’s pipelines, the death of Fidel Castro and Val d’Or

Panelists:

Lyle Stewart: Veteran Montreal journalist

Cem Ertekin: FTB Managing Editor and contributor

Host: Jason C. McLean

Producers: Hannah Besseau (audio), Enzo Sabbagha (video)

Report by Hannah Besseau

Referenced article by Lyle Stewart from The Nation

Recorded Sunday, December 4, 2016 in Montreal

LISTEN:

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Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

There has been quite a bit of talk about money in politics lately. Thanks in part to Bernie Sanders, we all know about the obscene amounts of money donated anonymously through SuperPacs to political candidates in the United States.

But the problem isn’t limited to the States, and it’s also not limited to major national campaigns. In fact, it has permeated even the most basic elements of our representative democracies.

There’s a phrase I saw, or rather re-saw, recently in a meme, and I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks, now:

“If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.”

I have been trying to reconcile this with my long-held view that internet media can be revolutionary. There are good arguments both for and against the notion. When it comes to party politics, though, things become a little more cut and dry.

Application Fees for the Top Job

On Monday, Projet Montréal, arguably the most progressive political party in the city, officially began its search for a new leader. There were, of course, rules. Understandably, you have to be legally eligible to be a candidate for Mayor of Montréal (because that’s what the job essentially is) and you have to have already been a member of the party (fair play, considering they want to weed out people running just to disparage the party).

But there’s more: you also need to have previously donated at least $300 to the party and must raise between $5 000 and $30 000 during the campaign. Yes, there are financial requirements for prospective candidates.

On one hand, I understand that a City Councillor who owes their better-than-average paying job, in part, to a party, should give a little back. I also realize that for many, $300 isn’t all that much money.

However, these requirements limit the field to those who are already elected or have enough money lying around to make that $300 investment. If someone doesn’t, sure they can borrow it off their friend, but then they will be beholden to their friend. Sure, it’s not like owing Walmart or Imperial Oil, but it’s still owing a contributor.

When it comes to raising money during the campaign, it does make sense that a well-funded campaign will do better than a poorly funded one, so I imagine any candidate for leadership will try to raise money. But making it a requirement effectively works against someone who has an idea of another way to succeed (an excellent social media campaign, for example).

It’s not that foregoing raising funds in lieu of another approach will work. It’s that someone who has that idea should be given the chance to succeed or fail with it.

That said, you do not have to be a member of a political party to become Mayor, you can run as an independent. That’s not the case everywhere, though.

You Need to Lead a Party to be Prime Minister

The Federal NDP will also be holding its leadership race in the near future. The NDP also has rules for candidates wishing to enter (at this point, just proposed rules):

  1. Leadership hopefuls need to collect 500 signatures from party members in different regions of the country. Makes sense.
  2. Half those signatures need to be from “female-identified members” and 100 need to come from “other equity-seeking groups” which means visible minorities, Aboriginal Peoples, members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. Yes, sure, absolutely. The more representative, the better.
  3. There is a $30 000 entry fee. Wait, what? Some people don’t make that in a year!

30 grand for a chance to be NDP Leader? That’s like taking three huge steps forward and then 30 000 steps back when it comes to inclusivity, especially when you consider that those the NDP is trying to include in the voting process are more likely to be those who can’t afford the leadership registration fee.

Former candidate Cheri DiNovo brought this issue to the forefront, refusing to officially enter the race and pay the fee. While she said she could probably raise the money, no candidate should have to in order to run.

And she’s absolutely correct. The only people who can afford to spend $30 000 on a job application when getting the job isn’t a sure thing (and a PM or MP’s salary isn’t either, even if you do get the job) are those who are already wealthy, are already elected officials, or those who know enough donors to raise the money from.

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No matter how you cut it, there is a huge personal economic restriction placed on people not already part of the political process who want to throw their hat in the ring. Sure, anyone can get involved, but the limits to the higher levels aren’t based on experience, they’re based on personal finances.

And unlike municipal politics, you need to be the leader of a political party to become Prime Minister of Canada. Not sure what the other major parties charge to run for leader, but if the progressive, left NDP is any indication, PM is a job inaccessible to those who don’t have or can’t raise large sums of money.

Until someone with hardly any cash can successfully run for mayor or PM on a party ticket, party politics remain inaccessible to the poor and therefore cannot be considered radical or revolutionary.

Projet Montréal is now officially searching for a new leader. So if you want to throw your proverbial hat in the ring to become the next head of the Official Opposition party in City Hall, you have until mid October to do so.

That is, provided you are already a member of the party. Leadership candidates can only be people who are registered members of Projet Montréal as of today, a move presumably to stop haters from messing the party up from the inside.

To run for leader, you also need to be eligible to be a candidate for Mayor of Montreal (understandably), plus you would have had to have made a donation of at least $300 to the party. You also need to raise at least $5000 in donations from members and non members, with leadership run expenses capped at $30 000.

If you want to vote for the leader instead of becoming the party boss, it’s a little more affordable and you have a bit more time.  You need to already be a member or sign up as one by November 4th. Former members who haven’t renewed for over a year have until November 19th to do so if they want a say in who will challenge Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre in 2017. One year Projet Montréal memberships cost $10.

Luc Ferrandez officially kicked off the contest today with a press conference and video. The Plateau Borough Mayor became Interim Leader of Projet Montréal in October 2014 but has already announced that he won’t be seeking the party’s top job on a permanent basis. Saint-Édouard City Councillor François Limoges is the only declared candidate so far.

This is Projet Montréal’s first leadership race. Co-founder Richard Bergeron had led the party since its inception in 2004, taking it from one elected city councillor (himself) to Official Opposition status. Bergeron quit the party shortly after the 2013 Montreal Municipal Election to sit as an independent and be part of Coderre’s Executive Committee.

The Projet Montréal Leadership Election will be a Universal Ballot and take place at a special convention on  December 4th, 2016.

I think Montrealers owe Gerald Tremblay and even Jean Drapeau an apology. Sure, they may have been corrupt, but at least they had the basic decency to make their abuse of city funds look, on some level, beneficial.

Denis Coderre won’t even extend us the courtesy of trying to pull the wool over our eyes. He’s paying, or rather Montrealers are paying, $3.45 million for granite shaped as tree stumps on Mount Royal, supposedly in celebration of our city’s 375th anniversary.

Drapeau: Corruption in the Details

Drapeau’s administration was responsible for building the Olympic Stadium. Yes, there were trucks driving in and out, then around the block, then back in, counted twice and paid twice or multiple times (page 6).

Was it grossly over budget and behind schedule due to corruption? Yes. Is it occasionally functional at best and a bit of an eyesore? Absolutely. Was Drapeau able to make a good case for building the thing in the first place? Yes he was.

The idea of a city the size of Montreal having an Olympic stadium that also can double as a baseball, football and concert venue is a good one. Or, at very least, it’s an idea that you can logically argue is beneficial. The corruption and waste, in this case, was all in the details.

Tremblay and the Arts: A Different Opinion

The most glaring example of corruption in the Tremblay administration (and there are many to choose from) has got to be the Quartier de Spectacles project. We’re talking no-bid contracts given to connected developers who chose to ignore rather vocal input and opposition from the existing artistic community, local business owners and historical preservationists and move ahead with their unpopular and badly conceived projects.

It took a court case and media shitstorm to stop the expropriation of Café Cleopatre, but the rest of the project has already become reality, or most likely will.

Was this a case of politicians doing favours for their friends at Montrealers’ expense. No doubt. Could Tremblay realistically argue public benefit? Unfortunately, yes.

I don’t for a minute buy the argument that we need to push independent artists out of their venues and tear down historic buildings in order to accommodate corporate art backers and uber-mainstream culture in order to be an international arts city. In fact, I find that angle repugnant and an insult to the very core of what makes Montreal artistically unique.

However, I will grant Tremblay one thing. While I didn’t and still don’t see any benefit in his plan, he was completely justified to argue that there was. One of those things where time will tell, I guess.

Coderre: Lost in the Woods

At first glance, Coderre’s granite tree stumps look…like a fucking terrible idea. An eyesore, really. Who needs fake nature when you’re surrounded by real nature?

Then you hear the price tag. Then all you hear is the price tag. How could the city be paying so much? Clearly someone’s getting the proverbial brown envelope, probably a friend of the Mayor. At least I hope someone is. If this isn’t corruption, then it’s catastrophically bad urban planning, which is probably worse.

mordecai richler gazeebo

This isn’t just some overpriced project like the Mordecai Richler Gazeebo which will cost $724 000. Sure, that’s way too much. Sure, Coderre rejected an offer of a free gazeebo to go with this plan instead. But at the very least, despite being worth nowhere near what Montreal will pay for it, a restored Gazeebo on the mountain named after one of Montreal’s most celebrated authors is a good thing.

This also isn’t like the public tree-shaped benches costing in the thousands opposition party Projet Montreal, who voted against the granite stumps on the mountain, installed on streets in the Plateau. Overpriced? Sure. Unnecessary? Yeah. But at least a tree-like bench on a city street, it can be argued, serves a purpose.

A place to sit? A good thing. Fake nature on an urban street? Sure. Kinda cheesey, but sure. But fake nature in the middle of a beautiful space full of real nature. It’s not just an unnecessary waste, it’s unwanted.

If you want to sit down on something natural, sit on a rock or, wait for it, an actual tree stump. If you want to sit on something made by humans, use a bench. There are plenty of them around the mountain and they didn’t cost a fraction of what these granite stumps will.

If you really want the sitting on nature experience but would prefer not have to sit on the actual nature that is all around you and think the city should pay $3.45 million for you to be able to do just that, then, hopefully, most likely, you don’t exist. If you do, then Denis Coderre would really like you to speak up right now.

Sure, some of these fake granite (parts of) trees are scheduled to appear in other spots in the city, like the campus of Université de Montréal (which also has quite a bit of nature in it, if I remember correctly), but it’s the ones on the Mountain that are particularly galling.

Coderre is taking a public beating on this one, from all corners of the political spectrum. And rightly so. This isn’t just corruption. This isn’t just out-of-touch, overpriced decadence. It’s something people wouldn’t want, in most cases, even if the price tag was $5.

Denis Coderre forgot the first rule of corruption: try to make it look like you are doing a good thing. If you’re going to screw us, Mr. Mayor, at least let us think that we’re enjoying it.

A couple days back I was at the mayor’s press conference concerning the provincial budget and something he said, and repeated, caught my attention. In essence he insisted Montreal is a metropolis that requires a greater say in how provincial tax dollars are spent in our city. I couldn’t agree more and I know where I heard this before.

Referring to the provincial budget, Coderre shrugged and said, simply, that it was realistic, but generally gave the impression he thought it was uninspired and was far too vague on the specifics of provincial money earmarked to develop social housing and improve infrastructure. A few months ago, Richard Bergeron was more direct: Quebec has to revisit its pact with the city.

Autoroute_Ville-Marie

Yesterday’s news is that the open trench of the Ville-Marie Expressway will be covered over between Hotel-de-Ville and Sanguinet and Coderre has put Bergeron in charge. Though plans to cover the trench go back nearly thirty years, it was Bergeron and Projet Montréal that campaigned on the idea during the last election.

Bergeron’s plan, as you might expect, is bold. He wants to cover the entirety of the trench from the Palais des Congres all the way to the Champ-de-Mars métro station, adjacent to the new superhospital. Coderre’s plan is limited – initially – to the easternmost section, where hospital, métro station and city hall meet. By pushing this idea, with or without Transport Quebec’s initial approval, Coderre may encourage private developers to get interested in the project and this in turn may encourage the transport ministry to get on board.

Why the province is apparently in charge of the aerial construction rights over our city’s exposed highway trenches is anyone’s guess. Why one of the most conservative and arguably corrupt ministries in this province is even allowed onto the island to do any roadwork is another.

200px-Flags_in_Montreal_July_2011But this aside, Coderre and Bergeron have something in common: neither are keeners vis-à-vis PQ and provincial interventions in this city’s affairs. They both want opportunities to show we can take care of ourselves, and in my opinion this couldn’t possibly come at a better time.

As long as the PQ is sabre rattling about how Quebec would be better off without ‘interference’ from the Fed, so too should the city of Montreal make it known we’d be better off without the meddling of the province. If Quebec requires autonomy from Canada, Montreal requires autonomy from Quebec.

Given that we’ve got a provincial election coming up, and a federal one after that, having an ardent federalist and Liberal in the mayor’s seat is just about the best situation for our city and its citizens.

There’s more though. Coderre made important changes to the role of the city inspector general based on recommendations by Bergeron and Projet Montréal. And further still, Bergeron has indicated he’s sticking around in municipal politics for longer than he originally thought. Perhaps he thought he’d be useless with Coderre in power. Perhaps he underestimated Coderre.

I feel an unlikely bromance is developing. Coderre’s recent announcement concerning the Ville-Marie isn’t a matter of one stealing another’s ideas. The idea has been around for a while. Rather, it’s that Coderre seems to be listening to Bergeron and the two of them are clearly working together on key points of mutual interest.

While this might not satisfy hardcore Projet Montréal purists, this is about as good it gets local-politics wise. That Coderre has specifically mentioned he wants this portion of the highway trench to be redeveloped as a public space is only further indicative that Coderre is aware of the value and necessity of Projet Montréal’s platform.

coderre marois

If Coderre really is going to be our city’s 21st century equivalent to Jean Drapeau, then I can only hope Bergeron is our latter day Lucien L’allier. So far I’m encouraged by Denis Coderre in his role as mayor, though in Montreal politics, as we should all know by now, mayors generally start out well and finish in the dumps. I’m hoping this process came to an end with the disastrous Tremblay/Applebaum administration. What encourages me most is that Coderre has reached out to his chief rival (let’s be real, Joly wasn’t really interested and Coté didn’t have a chance) and the two men have found enough common ground they’re actively working together.

That both men are further insistent we handle our own affairs in this city, possibly to the chagrin of the Parti Quebecois, is music to my ears. Anything, any legislation or political relationship that limits what the PQ can do to us is a victory for not only our city and its citizens, but the country more broadly.

If the PQ is destined to win a majority simply as a result of vote-splitting and uninspired leadership, so be it. Without Montreal, the PQ has no hope of achieving its single primary goal, its raison d’être. With two ‘bulldogs’ in city hall, the next few months should prove very interesting indeed.

The world was supposed to end in 2012. It didn’t. In fact, if 2013 in the news is any indication, it didn’t even change all that much.

There were a few pleasant surprises, a few unpleasant ones, some things didn’t change at all, for better or worse, and there was distraction and that’s where I’ll begin…

Distraction

Biggest distraction of the year? Without a doubt, this guy:

rob ford tired

Not only did Rob Ford dominate the headlines in Canada, distracting from the Senate scandal among other things, he managed to take top billing in the US for a while, overpowering problems with the Obamacare rollout, and even made headline news in Africa. His biggest accomplishment, though, seems to be that his crack use and personal problems have distracted everyone from the fact that he really has terrible policies and kinda sucks as mayor.

The biggest distraction this side of the 401 has got to be the Charter of Quebec Values, or the Charter of Secularism or whatever Marois and company are calling it now. It’s garnered the ire of everyone from the Jewish General Hospital, QPIRG Concordia and even Anonymous and it’s the proof that, despite how they may try to promote it, the PQ has lost any progressive cred they may have had.

With even Harley Davidson coming out against it, it’s clear that some people are seeing through what it essentially a cynical ploy designed to galvanize the right-wing separatist portion of the PQ’s base. Marois’ endgame is clear: re-establishing politics as usual in Quebec, which brings us to…

More of the same

You’d think in a year that saw a record-breaking three different mayors of Montreal, there would be some change. Well, unfortunately, Montrealers, or a small portion of them, voted in Denis Coderre, a candidate that ran with a good chunk of Gerald Tremblay and Michael Applebaum’s former Union Montreal teammates. So far, he’s stuffed the executive committee with his own people despite not having a majority and has declared war on erotic massage parlours, something he didn’t mention at all during the campaign.

Denis Coderre

2013 also saw more police repression with the SPVM enforcing bylaw P6 in a very unapologetic and hardcore way. It’s also been the year of police political profiling, fortunately some activists like Katie Nelson are now fighting it in the courts and the court of public opinion. ortunately, protesting Stephen Harper still seems to be kosher in Montreal.

It’s also nice to see that the Idle No More movement continues to grow, despite it not being as big in Quebec. Local activists here did have a facepalm-inducing run-in with the cops when they tried to put up a tipi in Montreal. F

There’s also supposed to be another multi-million dollar building going up on the lower Main, an area that doesn’t need it. But, believe it or not, it’s not all more of the same locally, there were…

A few pleasant surprises

We’re getting new metro cars! And we’re not talking about a few tweaks, this is actually a new design! Who would have thought such a thing was possible?

new-metro-exterior

Also, Projet Montreal did end up doing quite well in the municipal election. They held on to two boroughs, nearly added a third, became the official opposition and held Coderre to a minority on council. Melanie Joly also had an impact on our municipal scene and will be someone to watch in the years to come.

Most of the pleasant surprises this year happened in Ottawa (David DesBaillets goes through some of them) and internationally (Niall Clapham Ricardo takes a look at socialism on the rise). For me, the biggest standouts are how Canada just decriminalized prostitution, the courage of Edward Snowden and the fact that the US somehow managed to bungle its way out of a war that nobody wanted or needed in Syria, but most (including me) thought was inevitable.

So that’s just a brief look at how I saw 2013. I do hope that in 2014, we can do away with the distractions and the status quo. That would be a pleasant surprise, but not an impossible one.

* Top image by Jay Manafest

It’s that time of the year again, the time for review of the year articles, the top 10s of 2013, the political winners and the political losers. Unfortunately this article is not going to take such a clear cut stance, but it will make reference to one of the most important tends in this past year, the rise of the socialist alternative.

2013 most certainly could go down in the memories of progressives, radicals, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries as just another dull year within an infinite sea of rampant victorious capitalism. Some might say, as always amazing movements were bread in these past 365 days but none of them gave birth to anything of substance.

And such could be said of almost every year since Fukuyama, oracle in chief of the new world order, announced the  end of history. For Fukuyama and the neo-liberal guard, the fall of the wall of Berlin and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc coincided with the ushering in of a new age, a never changing age of relentless growth and prosperity, an age in which any alternative to capitalism was dead in the egg.

From the onset, Fukuyama’s divination seemed quite fragile. It foresaw a utopia on earth, but never answered the question, for whom?

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Was this the end of history? Some think so, but is that changing in 2013?

Certainly since 1989 the rapid growth of global capitalism is due to the erasing of almost every from of regulation: regulation of the financial markets or regulation of trade. In this new world the main enemy is any barrier to the complete freedom of multinationals and corporations.

In pure economic terms there is no doubt that these past decades have been fabulous for the GDP and NASDAQ and all their siblings within the family tree of economic indicators. The wild 90s and 2000s were la belle époque, but not the end of history.

For its proponents and ardent defenders the end of history was not, in any way shape or form, the end of inequality or the dawning of a more just world, quite to the contrary. For those that crafted the doublespeak rhetoric of the end of history, it literally meant that, like it or not, capitalism was here to stay. The only alternative, communism, had crumbled and thus from now on consumerism was a synonym for freedom, capitalism was liberty and inequality was the natural way of things.

On the other hand any “alternative” to the new modus operandi was thrown into the dustbin of history alongside “communism” (insert here Stalinism). Any movement that spoke of a greater redistribution of wealth or fought for the defense of the social welfare state – or as Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it, the right to an adequate standard of living – was trash.

For the neo-liberal elite, the welfare state is seen as the final frontier, a regulation of society at large that must be abolished under current standards. Thus ‘left-wing’ movements, be they social-democratic, socialist or any other alternative tendency, have been struggling for relevance in this new age and some have chosen the path of least resistance and decided to implement the norms and dictates of the end of history, somehow thinking that this would make them relevant again.

Hand in hand with this loss of relevance goes the alienation of many groups in society that have lost for faith in the democratic system in its entirety. A democratic system that offers no substantial alternative breeds in itself disaffection and apathy, slow is the death of democracy as we know it.

Michelle Bachelet during the most recent presidential election in Chile
Michelle Bachelet during the most recent presidential election in Chile

And yet the 2008 crisis has planted the seeds of something new. The world has been rocked by popular discontent voiced in different ways, in very different parts of the globe. And the year 2013 was no different with continued uprisings in Europe against austerity –the dismantling of the welfare state through brutal “structural adjustments”– uprisings in Turkey against the privatization of public spaces, here in Canada protests, led by First Nation, Inuit and Metis communities, erupted against environmental degradation for short-term profit.

But most importantly, 2013 was a year in which many struggles gained concrete victories amidst great aversion.

In Chile, Camila Vallejo, Gabriel Boric, Giorgio Jackson and Karol Cariola, leaders of the student protests that have rocked the country since 2011, were elected to parliament. Vallejo was elected on a communist ticket and that party, after the last legislative elections, has the biggest percentage of seats since the time of Salvador Allende.

Still in Chile, Michele Bachelet was reelected to the highest position in the country with a whopping 62 percent of the vote, the biggest percentage for a presidential candidate in the history of the Chilean left. Madame Bachelet was elected on a platform to continue to roll back the reforms that were ushered in under the military junta of Pinochet and to implement universal free post-secondary education.

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From Kshama Sawant’s twitter, campaign for 15 dollars minimum wage

One of the greatest victories of 2013 surprisingly had for a backdrop the United States of America. For the first time since the great depression, a major American city elect an openly socialist candidate to office.

Kshama Sawant was elected bringing to the center stage of American politics the struggle for a living wage instead of a minimum wage, rent control and higher taxes for the wealthiest. The victory of her grassroots movement is the embodiment of the Socialist Alternative that in 2013 started to dawn.

In Europe, splinter left-wing groups that offer a true alternative to the neo-liberal status-quo championed by center-center right and center-center left wing political parties are on the rise. Syriza the ‘radical’ left-wing coalition of several left-wing political parties is now given the lead in the polls. Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras, has been endorsed by the European left to lead a new anti-austerity coalition in the upcoming European elections.

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Syriza founding congress picture by Eleanna Kounoupa Creative Commens on Flickr

Here in Montreal, Projet Montreal more than doubled its seats in city council and has become, for the first time in history, official opposition. A coalition of progressives from all walks of life and Quebecois left-wing political tendencies has shown the way for left-wing movements to link social movements and grassroots politics to a prominent place on the political spectrum.

For these reasons the year that is now coming to end was a very fruitful one in which the alternative to this current system of savage capitalism grew in an extraordinary manner, and announced the return of history.

For this reason we have much to look forward to in 2014.

A Luta Continua

Denis Coderre is the Mayor of Montreal. Let’s all let that sink in, the man who hangs with Club Charbonneau regulars, thinks it’s cool to lock up mask-wearing protestors and once helped make a coup happen in Haiti is now our mayor.

To put it mildly, it’s not the outcome I wanted, not in the slightest. That said, all is not bad, in fact some things could end up being quite good.

We lived through Gerald Tremblay and Michael Applebaum, so we can live through Coderre. They’re really not all that different.

What is different, and this is huge, is that Coderre does not have a majority on the city council. He only has 27 of the 33 seats required for one. Projet Montreal, with 20 seats, is now a very strong opposition, much stronger than they were after the last election.

They are also stronger at the borough level, retaining their control of the Plateau and Rosemont-La Petite Patrie and picking up all the city and borough council seats in Sud Ouest except for that of borough mayor. Projet’s Jason Prince very narrowly lost to incumbent and candidate for Marcel Côté’s Coalition Montréal Benoit Dorais.

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Projet Montreal candidates, now city and borough councillors in Sud Ouest (l-r) Craig Sauvé, Sophie Thiébaut, Anne-Marie Sigouin and Alain Vaillancourt with outgoing Projet leader Richard Bergeron in the centre

Meanwhile in Côte-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Projet’s seat count went from one to two, which also is huge. As NDG councilor Peter McQueen found out last time, one councilor can propose motions, but it takes a seconder for them to be heard and debated and in a council controlled by an opposing party that doesn’t listen to outside voices, that can mean nothing gets through. Now, Magda Popeanu, who beat uber incumbent Helen Fotopulos in the Côte-des-Neiges district and McQueen can support each other.

Projet leader Richard Bergeron won his seat in Saint Jacques in the Ville Marie borough. It was a bold move for him selecting a colistière (or running mate, whose seat the party leader takes if they aren’t elected mayor but their designated co-candidate is elected to council) outside of the safety of the Plateau.

This move paid off, ensuring that he can sit on the council as leader of the opposition. Yesterday, though, Bergeron decided that three elections are enough and he would only keep his seat, and the leadership of Projet, for the next 18-24 months then resign from politics for good.

This inevitably will mean a leadership race, the first in the party’s history. Whomever that leader will be will have to figure out who on the council the — Projet councillors can count on for support, if Bergeron hasn’t already set those particular wheels in motion by the time they take over.

Marcel Côté, whose colistière finished third to Popeanu and Fotopulos, doesn’t have a seat on council himself, but six of his teammates do. Some of them are ex-Union as are many of Coderre’s councillors, so them siding with Projet on key issues is doubtful at best, though you never know.

Mélanie Joly got four city councillors elected: Steve Shanahan in Peter McGill downtown, Lorraine Pagé in the Sault-au-Récollet district of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Justine McIntyre in Pierrefonds-Roxboro’s Bois-de-Liesse district and Normand Marinacci was elected borough mayor if L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where her party also picked up all four borough council seats. Borough councilors don’t sit on city council, despite potentially bringing some Vrai Changement to Île-Bizard.

Even though Joly finished second for mayor, just a few points ahead of Bergeron and not that far from Coderre, she failed to get a seat on council herself. She ran her colistière in NDG against McQueen, a popular incumbent.

If, instead, she had placed her running mate in Peter McGill, where she has personal political experience (in Shaughnessy Village), she’d have a seat on council today. It’s that kind of decision that led me to believe those (including FTB’s Taylor Noakes) who were and are saying that she had no intention of staying in the municipal arena if she wasn’t elected mayor and would try instead federally with the Liberals (she has worked with Trudeau before).

Melanie Joly
Mélanie Joly (photo by Valeria Bismar)

Now, though, it looks like she wants to stick around, after all. She has pledged to run for the first seat on council that opens up and extended an olive branch to Bergeron a day before he said he was quitting.

Olive branches and parties working together are how good things can actually come out of the current city administration. True, as mayor and through mechanisms like the executive committee, Coderre wields considerable power. It’s also true that Côté councilors will probably vote with their former Union Montreal or establishment colleagues, but they are not obliged to.

The Joly councilors, Joly herself and all the independents and borough-specific candidates are wildcards. If Projet could bring enough of those wildcards into their well-stacked deck and create enough groundswell in the districts represented by Côté candidates, then they may be able to bring about positive change whether Coderre wants it or not.

I’m not saying this will be enough to, say, get rid of P6, but it might. It can’t hurt to try with that or with other issues important to Montrealers like transport or the awarding of city contracts.

I’m hopeful. Mainly because this will require a grassroots approach to politics, rather than a top-down one. And that is the type of political approach where Projet Montreal excels.

The 2013 Montreal municipal election was a sham, plain and simple.

With only 43% of eligible voters casting their ballots, we’ve scarcely improved on our 2009 low of 39% participation. 625 000 eligible voters did not exercise their democratic right to vote in our city’s most important election to date.

Disengagement in 2009 is at least partly to blame for so many crooks and criminals making their way into the halls of power, robbing the taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars, but the apparent anger did not manifest itself in our most cherished democratic tradition; expected ‘high’ voter turnout was but a minuscule bump.

Our city is only just beginning to comprehend the magnitude and implication of multiple generations of outright fraud built directly into the established local and provincial political systems, and yet, in our moment to effect change the people chose not to, by and large. And we wonder why our collective tax revenue doesn’t seem to provide for much…

If the people don’t use the democratic tools they have at their disposal there can be no hope of any positive socio-political or socio-economic change.

What’s worse is that we know low voter turnout plays directly into the strategies of these ‘vedette’ mayoral candidates. Disengagement means they keep their margins small, their favours few.

voter turnout rate montreal

Two key urban demographic groups – students and recent immigrants – are disenfranchised simply because it’s disadvantageous for politicians to involve themselves in the affairs of these groups. The establishment mentality is that this population is ‘transient’ or otherwise impermanent and thus not worthy of any attention. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people here. Do they not have an interest in this city’s future as well?

We also know that a number of boroughs (such as LaSalle, Lachine, Outremont and Anjou) voted for local independent candidates with independent borough parties, signalling a civic disengagement between the residents of these communities and the City of Montreal, an aftereffect of the municipal fusions forced through about a decade ago.

So we’re not entirely to blame for the low turnout.

But we are responsible nonetheless. Denis Coderre was elected by 149 000 people in a city with 1 102 000 registered voters.

This is pathetic.

Best case scenario Denis Coderre’s vast experience as a career politician comes in handy and he manages to keep a lid on things for the next four years. His populist bent may provide for some interesting fireworks if he intends on a values charter showdown with the premier, but of course, that won’t be so much for our benefit as his own. At best, a panis et circenses mayor, at worst, a whole helluvalot of skeletons come dancing on out of the closet.

Montreal Mayoral Candidates

Speaking of using the 2013 Montreal municipal election as a step up the career-ladder…

Melanie Joly, a public relations expert by trade, actually said she feels it’s ‘mission accomplished’ vis-à-vis her mayoral campaign, despite the fact that she came in second, lost her own district and only four of her team-mates got elected to council. By the by, team Vrai changement pour Montréal – Groupe Mélanie Joly is but two seats on council ahead of Équipe Barbe Team – Pro action LaSalle (yes, these are actual party names).

It seems to me the mission that was accomplished was that she managed to use the municipal election to develop political interest in preparation for a run on something else. There’s a provincial election looming on the horizon and a federal one too.

I can appreciate the ruthless brilliance of Ms. Joly’s plan, but I shudder to think of its hollow immorality. Are the citizens nothing but points in a political popularity contest?

We can not afford to go down this path again. How much longer can we survive as a viable city if our engagement remains this low? And what can we do to remedy the situation?

We need mandatory voting in our city before the next municipal election. If the people accomplish anything in the next four years, it will be the insistence that we commit ourselves to our right to vote, intractably.

As we all know mandatory voting is the norm in Australia, a nation not that fundamentally different from our own. There’s no reason to believe mandatory voting would be incompatible with our legal or political systems whatsoever, and the primary benefit outweighs any discomforts such a law might impose.

By ensuring total participation we would, at the very least, ensure that all voices are heard. As I imagine it, required participation would need a more engaged elections board, tasked to reach out to all Montrealers and ensure maximal participation. It would require additional advanced voting, more voting stations and, of course, the ability to abstain from voting on the ballot.

But the bottom line needs to be 100% participation, or as close as we can possibly get to it.

Anything less is playing directly into hands of the establishment, of those who wish to maintain the status quo, and worse, those who have realized the key to getting elected is not to appeal broadly or even have good ideas, but rather, to discourage as many voters as possible from participating.

If this is the direction our democracy is going (and based on provincial and federal numbers, it seems that is), then it simply isn’t a democracy at all.

How long will we wait before we act? And at what point have we gone so far down this road there is simply no turning back?

I’d prefer not to know the answer to that last question…

As this year’s municipal election campaign winds down and all the issues are assessed it has become increasingly clear to myself (and, I think a large part of the general population) that what we really need here in Montreal is a degree of freedom from undue outside influence. Time and again it seems like we’re prevented from moving ahead addressing our own needs because of various kinds of interference or obstruction.

This is the question I put to Richard Bergeron, Projet Montreal leader and mayoral candidate:

After reviewing your party’s extensive program it has become clear to me that many of your projects, especially the bigger and more interesting ones, will require the city of Montreal to gain new powers. As an example, with regards to your ambitious Métro extension project, this is currently the responsibility of the AMT, a provincial government agency we have no control over. So with all this and everything else in mind, what will you do to secure a new degree of operational sovereignty for the city of Montreal?

Okay, well, the first thing is I can’t modify the Canadian constitution, nor can I change the fact that the provinces are responsible for deciding which powers are allocated to what cities and when. The relative power of a Canadian city, any Canadian city, is an area of provincial jurisdiction, and it just so happens that of all the cities in Canada, the cities with the least amount of power are the cities of Quebec.

The federal government doesn’t have much to do or say with regards to our city. They own or have owned large pieces of land, but much of this is being sold off and redeveloped. They own the port and the bridges and certain key highways but that’s about it. The province plays a much, much larger role in our affairs.

The province is involved in many different aspects of our lives and there are ministries responsible for those aspects – be it education, healthcare, utilities etc. But of all the government agencies and ministries, none is more important than Transport Quebec.

When they make a decision it carries a lot of weight. When they decide they are going to prioritize highway construction and repairs over investments in public transit, these are decisions made to appease suburban communities over the wants and needs of the citizens of Montreal.

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Bergeron and Justice John Gomery

The MTQ made the decision to greatly increase the capacity of the Turcot Interchange, despite professional and community opinion against doing so, in large part because of highway capacity improvements they’ve made elsewhere, such as the completion of highway 30 on the South Shore, highway extensions to Valleyfield or adding another lane to highway 15. All of these improvements were designed to better facilitate car movements to and from the city, which in turn require a larger Turcot Exchange and a new bridge, which is the responsibility of the federal government.

For over a decade the province has prioritized public transit investment that also goes to the benefit of the suburbs over the city. The MTQ has invested $1.75 billion in commuter rail, but at 18 million passengers per year, the entirety of the AMT’s commuter rail system doesn’t even equal a single reserved bus lane operating in the city, such as the lane on Henri-Bourassa Boulevard.

One reserved bus line carries more people per year than an entire suburban train scheme. And yet, again, money is directed towards the suburbs, not the city. And this in turn becomes an element of suburban community branding.

The mayor of Mascouche can now tell his residents, ‘we have a train station’ as will the real-estate agents. What they won’t tell you is that scarcely more than 1% of the residents of Mascouche will use or have any use for this train.

The Train de l’Est is both over budget and well behind schedule and maybe, at best, 1500 or 2000 people will use the Mascouche train station on a daily basis. That’s a very expensive investment in an off island suburb, and it’s clearly politically motivated.

Worse, the province can use these ministries and agencies to claim innocence. They say, ‘It wasn’t us who made this decision, it was the MUC, it was the AMT.’ But do they take responsibility for the screw ups, the cost-overruns, the delays or even the foolish lack of planning? No, of course not.

It’s disingenuous when the province says that the ‘Montreal community’ is planning a commuter train extension out to the suburbs when it’s very clearly not. So I have an idea – I’ll be the mayor of Montreal and only represent the interests of Montrealers. I’m not interested in trains out to the suburbs or in supporting any more urban sprawl. I’m against this and so is the party.

How far are you willing to take that?

It can go as far as me refusing to attend the meetings of the agglomeration council, the CMM (Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal) and/or simply eliminating the Montreal delegation to the CMM. Doing so would render the CMM superfluous and it would fall because they need us much more than we need them.

I can’t and have no intention to be the mayor, simultaneously, of Montreal, Laval, Longueuil, Mascouche, Beaconsfield etc. One city is enough to focus on without unnecessary and ultimately futile outside obligations. Doing so would it make it very, very difficult for the province to continue passing the buck to its ministries and agencies when it comes to development here in Montreal.

Pauline Marois and Jean-François Lisée (Canadian Press)
Pauline Marois and Jean-François Lisée (Canadian Press)

It seems like both the provincial liberals and the péquistes have both been working against Montreal’s interests.

And it would be the same with the CAQ too. I remember meeting with Francois Legault in the spring of 2012 and he told me he’d be our city’s number one defender. I explained to him the crucial dichotomy of the city and its suburbs and how we’re losing 20 000 middle-class residents each year and, further, how the province has facilitated this exodus towards the suburbs.

And I went on to say that if he really wanted to win the election, all he had to do was campaign in the suburbs and run on a pro-suburban development platform, to forget about the 514 and focus on the 450, as this was the surefire way to get elected. And he said to me quite solemnly, ‘No, no I’d never do that. I want to invest in Quebec’s great metropolis, I understand how important it is blah blah blah.

That was in May of 2012. By the fall he was using Luc Ferrandez as some kind of a socialist boogeyman to motivate his predominantly middle-class French-Canadian base, because of course as you know, Luc Ferrandez apparently scares suburban dwellers.

Basically no matter which way you cut it, whether in federal or provincial terms, the politicians court the suburban voters at the expense of the urban citizens. We’re locked in a zero-sum game.

And as you’ve probably already noticed, when the provincial politicians do come to Montreal – what do they say? They say either Montreal isn’t French enough and the spread of English needs to be stopped, or, they say that Montreal isn’t cosmopolitan enough and we adopt official bilingualism, always, always playing one group against the other for cheap political points.

And once again we see, we’re locked in a zero sum game. Your prospective gains, as a politician, by courting the Montreal vote, is almost nothing, especially when you consider that about half the metropolitan population lives in the suburbs. So the politicians don’t say anything, don’t make any announcements of concrete plans, projects or programs when it comes to our city, and in reality once elected they put their entire focus on the suburbs anyways.

metro_xtensions
Proposed metro blue line extension heading both east and west

You mentioned métro extensions. Not a high priority for the provincial government. Highway extensions? Absolutely. In fact they’re doing quite well building new highways – the 25 got a bridge, the 19 is being extended, the 30 is already completed. But when you ask about a métro extension, suddenly we don’t have the money or the means or it’s simply too expensive – the province will find any excuse it can to support the suburban vote over the city vote.

And in the rare case that a premier feels like she owes something to the people of Montreal, do we get our Métro extended? No. We get a provincial mandate to establish a two-year long study of a Métro extension that was planned thirty years ago and will cost the taxpayers $40 million, no debate. This is all we get.

And let me tell you something – the Blue Line extension is perhaps the simplest extension, technically speaking. The route is pretty much straight and flat, and there are vacant lots along the way where stations could be inserted. I’m exasperated – where’s the problem?

So what is the $40 million for?

To buy them time, to buy them votes. Look – we inaugurated the last station of the current Blue Line in March of 1988. At that time I had just entered the job market as a recently-graduated urbanist. What do you think my first major professional engagement was? Studying the extension of the Blue Line towards Anjou!

And I’ll go you one better, this extension was a part of the Blue Line’s original plan. And do you know how much we’ve spent studying the Blue Line extension since then? More than $300 million to study something that has already been studied and analyzed ad nauseum.

This is how the politicians keep the wheels of our construction industry turning. Ms. Marois made such a big splash too – a big press conference all to announce she’s calling for a study. It’s a farce.

I think what the city of Montreal needs is a mayor who is going to simply stop being involved in these provincially designed fictions; the CMM, the AMT, these impede our growth by giving the mayor unnecessary responsibilities. The last time a sitting mayor tried to stand up to bad planning on the part of the province was when Gerald Tremblay pushed an alternative Turcot Interchnage design and plan, one designed by me as head of the Executive Committee by the way, and he was told quite simply from his political bosses in Quebec City, ‘look, you’re either with us or with Bergeron,’ so he folded like a card table and that’s that.

Back in March of this year Ms. Marois green lighted the same damned Turcot project, the one no one likes and doesn’t make any sense, the same project so cavalierly pushed by the previous administration, and do you know what Ms. Harel said? Not one word.

Back in 2010 Ms. Harel supported the city’s alternative Turcot plan, but once Ms. Harel’s political boss became premier, all of a sudden she doesn’t say a word and has nothing bad to say about her boss. Well guess what? I don’t have any bosses, and I don’t owe anyone any favours.

I can’t be any more emphatic about this point – I don’t belong to any other political party but Projet Montréal and am extremely proud that I have no political bosses. This scares the political establishment in incalculable ways, because it means Montreal will have a free mayor, a mayor unencumbered by yesterday’s garbage.

Quite simply we live in a province whose entire history has been dominated by an old boys club patronage-heavy political system. I have no interest in this at all, and that’s why both the party and I are as clean and pure as the driven snow.

We need a mayor that sees the suburbs as competitors, competitors who, each and every year, steal 20 000 residents and taxpayers from the city of Montreal. And they do so while offering fewer services and an arguably lower quality of life. And yet we still lose. We lose $2.5 billion in investment as a direct consequence of suburban sprawl, each and every single year, and yet I’m expected to collaborate and cooperate with the suburbs and the province, to facilitate these losses? No way!

p6 police kettle
SPVM police kettle enforcing bylaw P6 (image by Tim McSorley for the Media Co-Op)

Let’s change gears briefly. In a recent interview some comments you made about the annual police brutality march and the use of municipal bylaw P-6 left some confused about your position. I know that your party twice moved motions, which were defeated by your opponents on council, to repeal the controversial portions of P-6, those that mirrored the now repealed Law 12, and you’ve been quite clear in the past that you consider P-6 to be a violation of basic civil liberties. Has your position changed?

No. Allow me to be crystal clear: myself, my party, we are opposed to the 2012 additions to P-6, we have always opposed them, and we will continue to oppose them. Our position has not changed. There is no place for these type of draconian restrictions on the right to peaceful protest in a democratic society. A Projet Montreal administration will move swiftly to repeal these sections of P-6.

Now let’s move on to the question of the annual police brutality march. What’s your position on that?

The question of the police brutality march is a difficult one, because of the regularity with which it descends into violence and chaos. Previous mayors have ignored it, allowed it to happen and then held a press conference the next day to denounce the violence and score political points.

My approach would be quite different. I would sit down with the organizers, open a dialogue, and make sure that their protest is able to unfold without restriction, but in a way which respects public space and the importance of maintaining a safe and secure environment for all.

My administration would do everything in our power to ensure that protests unfold without violence or provocation. In the case that we fail, we will direct police to target those who have carried out criminal acts, and charge them under the law. It is important, when it comes to protest, that our police force targets the guilty, and does not criminalize an entire class of people for the crimes of a handful among them.

I don’t believe, as my opponents seem to, that we can either have the right to protest, or safe streets, but not both. I believe that a balance can be struck which respects the rights of all citizens. Striking that balance is the role of a responsible government, and it is the role I see for my administration.

I couldn’t possibly have prepared myself to meet Jason Prince.

The unyielding torrent of information that came out of him was bewildering at first – who the hell is this guy?

Turns out I was interviewing a university professor, a specialist in social economics, collective entrepreneurship and community banking and above all an individual with his ear to the ground in a manner I haven’t seen before. Jason Prince is hoping to be borough mayor of the Sud Ouest borough, one of Montreal’s most unique and complex mega-neighbourhoods and he seems to know it better than just about anyone else. But it’s his perspective that gets me.

We talked for over three hours and worked through more coffee than I was intending to consume past 9pm. At one point he began illustrating some of his ideas by drawing on the flip side of his placemat. It was magic.

By the end of it all I think we were both completely exhausted, but at the very least I left the conversation with a far, far better idea of what’s going on in my borough and what some of the big-picture grassroots issues are. If that seems inherently contradictory, I’ll tell you now you’re wrong. And suggest strongly you speak with Mr. Prince.

We should be so lucky to bend his ear for an hour or two… Utterly fascinating in every way.

What do you want for this city?

Well, there was something I was just thinking about, like an AirBnB but for apartments in our city. Like if you have an apartment in St. Henri but you’ve always wanted to live in the Mile End you could organize a swap online. Something of that sort would be kinda neat no?

That’s a million dollar idea right there…

I’ll tell you what I want. I want a bus, an articulated bus, running on highway 20 from the far end of the West Island going all the way downtown. I want it to run in a reserved lane, on an express schedule, stopping at a select number of stops. During rush hour, I want one of these buses running every five to ten minutes.

Sounds like a BRT.

Yeah, except mine will be painted bright pink.

Come again?

To attract attention. You won’t miss that, no one will. And on the side of this bus, or perhaps integrated into its outlandish overall aesthetic, would be the following three phrases, in both official languages of course: free wifi, free newspapers, free coffee.

Free coffee?

Free with your STM-branded plastic travel mug of course.

You want a barista on the bus?

Ha. Well that might be a bit much, perhaps we’ll have to start off with those super-sized carafes for the first little bit, but I can imagine such a system as I’d like to see would have new, purpose-built buses. So perhaps we could make some room for an actual person who could serve the highest-octane coffee money can buy.

This is one hell of a bus!

Yeah. I think it’s the kind that will actually get people to give up their cars. Imagine all those people sitting in traffic each and every day on the 20. Imagine sitting there going nowhere fast, and every five minutes this big pink bus just blasts past you. And each one is filled with happy people comfortably zooming off to work. No traffic, no parking, no bad road conditions and no hassle.

This. This is how you get 40-50 000 people to give up commuting with their own car. If we can offer this kind of service to car-crazy suburbia, the STM will succeed not only in securing their own prosperous future, but will further have served the public good by taking a big chunk out of our yearly carbon emissions.

And it’s such a win-win situation. Less traffic means our roads and transport infrastructure lasts longer, means your car lasts longer and costs less to maintain. It means our streets get cleared faster after a snowstorm. It means fewer accidents. And best of all it will improve air quality and the overall quality of life.

Driving is fun, no one’s going to deny that. But commuting by car in Montreal is just idiotic, especially if there are other viable options. Who has two hours a day to give up, just to crawl along in traffic? We want people to take public transit, but in order to secure new ridership, we have to offer new options.

So you want BRTs over tram systems?

No, not necessarily. I think there’s room for both. But for starters, lets get some nifty new super buses on reserved lanes on our highways. Let’s do what we can to really cut down on commuter traffic.

redpath sugar
The former Redpath Sugar refinery in St-Henri (photo mybis.net)

This borough presents a lot of contrasts and people keep jawin’ on about how it’s going to be the ‘Next Plateau’ or something of the sort. There’s been a lot of gentrification already, but the shadow of de-industrialization looms long and large. What will propel this borough into the next plateau of liveability and economic sustainability. In sum, what will bring the jobs back to the Sud-Ouest?

We need to maximize all the potential economic benefits of the new superhospital. I’ve been working on getting the MUHC to incorporate a strategy for economic development and consider the hospital’s effect on employment, traffic, housing etc.

What caught my attention is the potential for former industrial space in Saint Henri to get recycled for the purposes of medical technology companies. Unlike Westmount and Notre-Dame-de-Grace, the Sud-Ouest borough has a lot of room to handle medical technology firms, research and development labs and a host of related economic activities. In sum, there may be a silver lining to this project many thought would be another white elephant.

But aside from that, did you know there are 240 manufacturers located in the Sud-Ouest?

That’s many more than I would have assumed…

Right, because they’re all much smaller than the giants that once powered the local economy. But what’s left isn’t nothing, it’s much more than that. It’s a foundation that can be built upon.

I believe Saint Henri’s future may not be strictly residential. We must avoid a condo ghetto here and that means taking a serious look at the economic agents which power balanced neighbourhoods.

We need to establish target goals and a preferred mix of activities and then plug in what’s needed to accomplish what’s best for this borough. While the MUHC hasn’t formally agreed to any specific economic spin-off model for the new superhospital, if elected, I’d certainly make it a priority to get them to adhere to a mutually beneficial model, one that allows Québec Inc. to plug into the MUHC and use the Sud-Ouest for new economic activity.

What does the Sud-Ouest need, more than anything else, from their next mayor and from the next municipal administration?

Access to good quality, affordable housing. Whatever the borough’s future, affordable housing must be maintained.

It’s unfortunate that the Régie de logement isn’t working as well as it used to, that the former administrations provided so many loopholes for developers to completely ignore the real housing needs of the city and that the CMHC doesn’t actually build affordable housing any more.

They don’t?

Nope, haven’t for some time either. And Harper’s mentioned he wants to scrap it outright, which could lead us to a mortgage crisis like they had in the States. But that’s another issue.

You’ve seen the signs up all over town. You’ve read the candidate profiles on FTB and followed the coverage elsewhere. You’ve seen the polls and hopefully voted in the poll we have in our sidebar (if you haven’t there’s still time).

Now, CBC and McGill University have hosted an English language debate with all the major party leaders. If you don’t know how you’re going to vote or you’re backing a candidate and want to see them shine, it’s worth watching. It runs about an hour.

What did you think of the debate? Who won? Did it change your opinion?

I recently sat down with Projet Montréal Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace borough mayor candidate Michael Simkin to discuss his and the party’s plans for one of Montreal’s most dynamic and fascinating boroughs. I discovered one of the most unique candidates in this city’s electoral history (and I’m saying that as a historian…)

Who were you prior to this electoral season?

Well, I suppose the most accurate way to describe myself is space lawyer. To my knowledge I’m the first space lawyer to ever run for local office.

Space lawyer?

Yeah I have a law degree from McGill, one of the very few graduates from the Institute for Air and Space Law. Before that I was working on becoming an engineer, which brought me to NASA in the late 1990s to work on the X-33 advanced space plane project, a kind of next-generation Space Shuttle.

Go on…

Let’s see, after being called to the Québec Bar I worked for the Canadian Space Agency’s space sciences group but my project was scrapped (as with much of our nation’s scientific research) by the Tories. I was lucky to be re-assigned to Environment Canada as a Sr. Climate Change Advisor, but have since taken a leave without pay to run for local office.

Are you mad?

Ha ha. No. I recognize that’s not what most people would do, but look at our situation here. This city needs a major change if it wants to get back on its feet.

What drives you?

Two things. First, I’m driven by trying to understand the world around me and further by trying to improve it. This is what got me into engineering, law, municipal politics, heck, even my ‘theatre therapy’ project.

Sherbrooke Ouest NDG
Sherbrooke Street in NDG (photo WikiMedia Commons)

How do you have time for all this?

Easy. I always work with others. I always work in groups; collaboration is the key. It’s easier and produces better long-term results.

What’s your connection with the borough?

I was born and raised here in NDG and I currently live but a few blocks from where I grew up. This is my home, my community and I’m exceptionally proud of it. Growing up we weren’t very well off, but this community always provided. You know, it’s funny. Michael Applebaum’s father used to run a shoe store and he’d sell factory seconds to people who really couldn’t afford to pay the full retail price. He helped us, he was totally selfless. When Michael Applebaum was arrested on suspicions of fraud I remember remarking to myself how far an apple can fall from the tree, no pun intended.

What did you do as a lawyer?

I only worked in law for about 18 months but during that time I was primarily involved in defending consumers as I worked for Option Consomateur. Among others I was involved in the push to change the rules regarding cell phone contracts, so that consumers wouldn’t be locked in to ridiculous three-year contracts. I also participated in a parliamentary committee on access to food and good nutrition.

Is food security a concern for you and the party?

Absolutely. I want to establish a food policy for the borough and the city, this was adopted by the party.

I was involved in establishing the first food co-op at McGill when I was studying there when I realized that the joke about students subsisting on little more than Kraft Dinner was not so much a joke but a reality for thousands of students. People assume that if you’re studying in university that you’ll be smart enough to eat properly but the problem lies in lack of access to good food at a reasonable price. Students don’t generally have immediate access to market-fresh food, let alone the money to pay for it.

Food security and the right to quality food is of vital importance to our city and the well-being of its citizens. I’ve noticed that the French community is way more food-conscious than the Anglophone community and perhaps this is changing, but for the time being, we would be wise to adopt initiatives coming out of the broader Franco-Montreal community.

Decarie autoroute
The Decarie expressway which intersects the CDN/NDG borough (photo WikiMedia Commons)

What kind of initiatives are you talking about?

We have to address socio-cultural aspects concerning food and further educate the public about nutrition. In terms of the right to food, we need to look well beyond food banks and the stigmas that come with them. Community kitchens, as an example, are an engaging way to move forward on this issue.

What are the people of CDN-NDG most concerned about?

Corruption, and as a direct consequence, from what I’ve seen and experienced firsthand, there’s a lot of suspicion about anyone running for office these days. All politicians are suspect and the people think (perhaps, at least initially) that those in the running are simply looking to exploit the same machine that was involved in so much fraud, bid-rigging, collusion etc.

Now, all that said, admittedly it isn’t too difficult to demonstrate Projet Montréal’s integrity – that speaks for itself, no PM members were ever picked up by UPAC or have testified in front of the Charbonneau Commission. We’re clean, and after breaking through people’s initial resistance to speaking with politicians, we make this point clear.

Personally, I believe it’s time to abandon the notion of career municipal politicians. So I won’t seek a third mandate if I’m lucky enough to win the next two elections. Eight years is enough, after that it’s time for fresh blood.

How do you think you’re doing? How’s the party doing?

Recent polling aside, I think the party’s in a very strong position. That so much of our program has been copy-and-pasted into the programs of the other parties is indicative that, at the very least, our opponents recognize we have the ideas that resonate with the electorate. Further, that both Coderre and Coté have been running robocalls against us is also indicative we’re seen as a real threat to them. As for myself personally, I think I’m leading in CDN-NDG and am very happy with the response I’ve been getting.

What do the citizens of Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace need?

A lot. Citizens need police to respect their own operating norms and stop using racial profiling. As you might imagine that causes a lot of headaches in our borough given the large immigrant and visible minority populations. We obviously need better quality roads but we further need many more bike paths so we can encourage alternatives to using your car (which in turn helps the roads last longer).

The citizens have often spoken about the lack of community space and the poor condition of local parks, both of which need to be prioritized. Further, our parks can be too focused on supporting the needs of children and families during the day, but there are other people who’d like to use these spaces too. We need parks with activities geared towards everyone. On top of that, people are asking about green roof initiatives, urban agriculture etc.

It’s a big borough with a large and diverse population, so naturally there’s a litany of needs.

Anything in particular that really strikes a chord with you personally?

Yes. We have way too much subpar housing in my borough and it sickens me. We have people here living in apartments that technically, legally, should not be habitable.

Whether it’s electrical problems, mildew, mould, cockroaches or bedbugs, CDN-NDG has a housing problem that’s been callously ignored for far, far too long. Michael Applebaum, in his role as borough mayor, was completely useless in getting anything done in this respect.

From what I know about 20% of rental housing in our borough is listed as subpar and as borough mayor I would consider this a pressing priority. We have a moral obligation to make sure people have access to quality apartments, regardless of how much is paid in rent.

We need standards and the means to enforce strict regulations. It’s unacceptable that citizens here are forced to live in such awful housing and all for what? So a slumlord can save a few thousand dollars on repairs?

If I recall correctly, 80% of all the rental units available in the entire borough are owned by five people. You see the problem? And you better believe those people have strong connections with the old order.

We have to tackle this housing crisis head-on. Whether it comes in the form of outright expropriations or simply forced repairs that get added to the annual property tax evaluation later on, either way, this is something I consider very important. It is inexcusable that anyone in a city such as ours should be forced to live in such decrepit, infested apartments.

* Michael Simkin playing the piano in Girouard Park photo courtesy of Projet Montreal CDN/NDG

Peter McQueen is a character, there’s no two ways about it.

He has an air about him like he’s a bit fed-up. His eyes dart around him; we’re at the Shaika in NDG. He sees people he knows and cracks a quick smile, registers a polite nod.

I’m taken with it off the bat; it’s not the kind of permanently chiseled smile most career politicians always seem to be wearing, always a half-beat away from an overly enthusiastically hearty laugh. Mr. McQueen is more genuine than that, but I nonetheless sense a frustration emanating from him. I’ve seen it before – it’s the frustration that stems from trying to earn the public’s confidence enough to do a thankless job and then realizing the public is not so much interested in solutions as they are in griping about god know’s what.

It’s a kind of world weariness I associate with a lot of Projet Montréal candidates, especially the more interesting ones. They have every idea of just how insurmountable the wall of public apathy can sometimes be.

I sat down with the incumbent Projet Montréal city councillor for Notre-Dame-de-Grace (NDG) across from Girouard Park on a simply stunning autumn day. He swiftly moved from idea to idea, cracking jokes and smiling before getting serious and pensive. I felt like there was a small engine quietly purring in the back of his mind working on other problems and issues altogether and yet I never felt like I had lost his attention.

Girouard Park
Girouard Park in NDG

To put it mildly, it was a sight. I would encourage all residents of NDG to have a word with him.

A veteran city councillor, Mr. McQueen is running his second municipal election and is hopeful his party will break through in the city’s West End. When he was first elected in 2009, he was the only PM representative of the western part of the city, but this time around the party is far more visible and is looking to make major gains in many boroughs.

McQueen grew up in NDG and lives there currently; by his own admission he has spent much of his life there and feels particularly attached to it. He’s an alumnus of the prestigious Liberal Arts College of Concordia University and prior to his career in politics worked for nearly a decade as a tabulation manager in a polling firm, before starting his own home reno business. He further ran as a Quebec Green Party candidate (twice, in 2007 and 2008) and while he didn’t win, he earned the highest score of any Green Party candidate in the province.

What encouraged you to get involved with municipal politics?

Traffic planning around the new MUHC SuperHospital. It was poorly planned starting day one. I couldn’t believe what they were proposing, how backwards some of the plans are, and given what we know now about some of the people up at the top of the organization, well, you can understand why I felt motivated to try and instigate a change.

What are the people complaining about, what do the citizens want?

Well, I’ll start by telling you about complaints. I need people to stop shooting the messenger. This goes for everyone in this city, not just the people of NDG. The people of Montreal need to distinguish between the person who caused bad news and the person reporting bad news. If there’s one problem we (Projet Montréal) have to deal with all too often, it’s that some citizens get angry at us and accuse us of being part of the problem when all we’re doing is mentioning that various problems exist in the first place and need to be addressed.

I can imagine it’s draining…

It can get you down; we persevere though. To answer your question more directly, the people of NDG need better traffic solutions for the MUHC site, inasmuch as better public transit access in general for the borough.

This is a well connected borough though, isn’t it?

In some respects yes, but a major problem we’re discovering is that high-volume public transit systems, like the commuter trains and the Métro, are overcrowded by the time they reach NDG. This means that we have more people using their cars to get from NDG to the city, as an example.

The trend was supposed to go in the other direction; people living in first ring urban residential areas are supposed to be transitioning permanently to public transit, but public transit hasn’t fully kept pace with the needs of the citizen. If people in NDG think traffic is bad now, wait until the MUHC is completed and work on the Turcot begins. For areas like NDG and Cote-des-Neiges, better public transit access and new systems are vital.

New systems, like a tram?

A tram is one possibility, but it’s also just one part of a larger more comprehensive traffic cocktail, if you will. Bus Rapid Transit is also effective and would be more effective along certain routes.

Empress Theatre
The Empress Theatre in NDG

 

But NDG is a kind of transitional neighbourhood. It’s not the suburbs and it’s not the city, it’s something in between that supports a larger population than that which actually resides here. Ergo, we’ll eventually need an entirely new transit system to meet new needs and fill the connectivity gap between the Métro and the bus. Already one of the major challenges we face is an unending stream of morning rush hour Métro trains over-crowded before they get to NDG, and this is leading some NDG residents to go back to their cars, which now have to operate on roads being torn up at seemingly all the major choke points.

What are your plans for the borough?

I’ll list them for you:

– A pedestrian and bike bridge over Décarie to Vendome
– Keep Upper Lachine Road open so that the 90 and 104 buses can continue using it
– The road over Décarie leading towards Monkland Village from Villa-Maria Métro station needs a taller fence, the current one isn’t up to code and people are at risk of falling into the trench. In fact, the entire ‘entrance’ to Monkland Village could be improved
– Girouard Park needs some attention – it’s the only large park in Eastern NDG and it’s been neglected for far too long
– Finally, we need to improve the safety around our borough’s elementary schools. Many local kids walk or bike to school and so I’d like to see new safety measures put up, be it in the form of more crossing guards, speed bumps, higher speed limits and the like.

How will you maintain a balance between our dual need for urban gentrification inasmuch as our need for sustainable communities and affordable housing?

Mostly by maintaining our current stock of rental units and preventing conversions. That said, we also could do some work improving the image of the cheapest parts of NDG. I hear people talking about Fielding and Walkley streets as if they were desperately poor and havens for all manner of criminality. The truth is, both Walkley and Fielding’s bad reputation is entirely overblown.

A new community centre and community restaurant on Fielding could do a lot to turn things around. But that’s us as a party: we come up with simple, straightforward, community focused solutions for a myriad of problems experienced by urban residents of Montréal.

How are we going to crack the 40% participation rate?

We need a mid-weather day, not too cold, not warm either, cloudy, maybe a hint of drizzle but no rain, overcast with occasional, fleeting sunny breaks, about 10-15 degrees out. Given the date of the election, these are the ideal conditions to get people out of their homes and in to their most sacred and the most basic method of participating in a democratic society.

I’m hopeful that our non-combative, patient and compassionate approach resonates with the voters. We didn’t have any robocalls because we’re not interested in telling the voters what they’ll get if they vote for us. When Projet Montréal calls, it’s a real person and that person wants to ask you what you want, what you need and what you think.

That’s what this city needs – politicians who’ll listen.

I sat down recently with Christian Arseneault, Projet Montréal city councillor candidate for the Loyola district of Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace.

Describe yourself, your district and your attachment to the district.

Wow, where to begin? Among others, I was born and raised in the Loyola district, also known as Western NDG. I went to Loyola High School and continue to live in the district, even though I no longer live at home. Western NDG is my home and I’m pretty happy there. It’s a nice place to live. As to my experience, I’m a recent graduate of Honours Poli Sci (McGill) and have previously worked on Kathleen Weil’s campaign during last year’s provincial election.

How would you describe your district to someone who knows nothing of our city, or NDG for that matter?

It’s comfortably close to everything you need while retaining the all that makes Western NDG an ideal place to live, namely that it’s tranquil, relaxing, a good place to raise your family. It’s suburban without being in the suburbs. Furthermore, it, much like the borough and the city as a whole, is very multi-cultural. NDG is about people from all over coming together and living in peace. We have no strife here, no linguistic debates. That’s all so alien to how people actually live here.

Unfortunately, despite all the good people and the good lives they live, we’re also ground zero for corruption.

How’s that?

Michael Applebaum created something of a monster in NDG, as we’re becoming increasingly aware. It’s not just those god-awful condominiums in Saint-Raymond, there are hints and allegations something’s crooked with the new NDG sports centre too. As an example, though it was originally supposed to be designed for international swimming competitions, for some reason the building was completed shorter than what was originally intended and now cannot be used for such purposes.

Little things that snowball into one big mess. This is Applebaum’s legacy to Montreal and there’s nothing I’d like more than to change this; I’m tired of our elected officials cutting corners and profiting off of half-assing it.

Montreal_West_-_AMT_Train_Station
The Montreal West Train Station, half of which is in the Loyola District of Western NDG

If elected, what would you do for your district?

There are two ‘big’ pet-projects I have for my district. First would be to improve the area around the Montreal West train station, which is actually half in NDG. That area is called ‘Westhaven’ but it’s anything but.

In fact, after speaking with the people who live there, it’s becoming apparent to me that this is one of the most casually ignored parts of the city. It’s run-down and poor and could use some attention. It’s unfortunate just how much of a barrier a train line can actually be and so for those on the wrong side it’s as if they didn’t even exist for scores of local politicians who have come and gone throughout the years.

I think we need to fix the major congestion problems around the station as part of a broader initiative to revitalize the area. We should also extend Bixi service out there and further extend the bike path network. It has the potential to be a transit hub, given that two bus lines originate from the station and it’s so close to Loyola campus.

My second plan would be to stimulate a ‘revitalization’ of a stretch of Somerled between Grand and Walkley and try to drive the creation of a ‘Somerled Village’ modeled on the popular Monkland Village but more affordable, less corporate. I think local political leaders need to help steer development and this area could use some extra attention. We definitely need new poles of attraction for local businesses.

What will NDG be like after four years of Projet Montréal governance, assuming your party were to sweep CDN-NDG?

It will be a safer borough to live in, especially for pedestrians and cyclists. We’d definitely pursue some road and intersection redesigns, not to mention installing protected bike paths.

See, what people really need to understand is that improving our streets isn’t a zero-sum game. It’s not a bike path in lieu of cars, it’s not reserved bus lanes in lieu of cars. Increasing access to bike lanes and improving public transit makes those alternatives work better and this in turn gets people to leave their cars at home.

Fewer cars on the streets mean less congestion, and guess what, as a motorist who loves driving around our city, this is good for everyone. Unless we’ve forgotten, driving is a real pain if all you’re doing is slowly crawling along the street.

I also want NDG to pioneer openness and transparency in its affairs, which shouldn’t be too hard given that Michale Applebaum was one of the least transparent, most paranoid borough mayors we ever had the misfortune of having run our affairs. We want televised council meetings and want all pertinent city information put online, well in advance of scheduled deadlines and/or meetings – it’s vitally important the people have access to all the information we’d use on a day to day basis.

That prior administrations would have the gall to tell the people they wouldn’t understand what it means and thus can’t see it is very disturbing. I can guarantee you this is certainly not how Projet Montréal would operate. Ultimately, I want to throw all the lights on, and make it impossible for anyone or anything to escape that light – we must conduct our business out in the open and be held accountable for the decisions we make.

What would you like to see removed from the map, be it figuratively or actually?

I’d bury all the highways deep underground. It’s part of PM’s mandate to continue covering the Décarie and Ville-Marie expressways, but honestly, why stop there? We should do like Boston and stick all the highways underground covering all the exposed parts.

They’re so ugly, shitty, awful in every way. I really can’t wrap my head around the decision that was made in the 1950s to cut big long trenches through prime real estate, dividing up the city into odd pieces.

Why didn’t they think what this might do to the look and feel of city life? It’s awful. I’d love to no longer have to see any of them ever again.

The following is an excerpt from a featured interview with mayoral candidate and Projet Montreal leader Richard Bergeron by FTB contributor Taylor Noakes which you can expect to see in full next week. Given that Bergeron’s interview with Radio X this past Saturday raised many eyebrows on the left, we are releasing his responses to two questions which address what he said on the air (along with a French translation because of francophone interest in the topic).

Forget the Box: In a recent interview some comments you made about the annual police brutality march and the use of municipal bylaw P-6 left some confused about your position. I know that your party twice moved motions, which were defeated by your opponents on council, to repeal the controversial portions of P-6, those that mirrored the now repealed Law 12, and you’ve been quite clear in the past that you consider P-6 to be a violation of basic civil liberties. Has your position changed?

Richard Bergeron: No. Allow me to be crystal clear: myself, my party, we are opposed to the 2012 additions to P-6, we have always opposed them, and we will continue to oppose them. Our position has not changed. There is no place for these type of draconian restrictions on the right to peaceful protest in a democratic society. A Projet Montreal administration will move swiftly to repeal these sections of P-6.

FTB: Now let’s move on to the question of the annual police brutality march. What’s your position on that?

Bergeron: The question of the police brutality march is a difficult one, because of the regularity with which it descends into violence and chaos. Previous mayors have ignored it, allowed it to happen and then held a press conference the next day to denounce the violence and score political points.

My approach would be quite different. I would sit down with the organizers, open a dialogue, and make sure that their protest is able to unfold without restriction, but in a way which respects public space and the importance of maintaining a safe and secure environment for all.

My administration would do everything in our power to ensure that protests unfold without violence or provocation. In the case that we fail, we will direct police to target those who have carried out criminal acts, and charge them under the law. It is important, when it comes to protest, that our police force targets the guilty, and does not criminalize an entire class of people for the crimes of a handful among them.

I don’t believe, as my opponents seem to, that we can either have the right to protest, or safe streets, but not both. I believe that a balance can be struck which respects the rights of all citizens. Striking that balance is the role of a responsible government, and it is the role I see for my administration.

________________________________________________________________________

Forget the Box: Dans une interview récente, un commentaire que vous avez fait sur la question de la manifestation annuelle contre la brutalité policière a laissé certains perplexes. Je sais que votre parti a fait deux propositions – défaites – pour abroger les dispositions controversées de P-6, celles qui rappelaient la loi 12, maintenant abrogée. Dans le passé, vous avez clairement déclaré que vous considériez que le règlement P-6 violait les libertés fondamentales. Est-ce que vous avez changé d’avis?

Bergeron: Non. Je vais être clair : mon parti et moi sommes opposés aux amendements de 2012 à P-6, nous l’avons toujours été et nous continuerons de nous y opposer. Notre position n’a pas changé. Il n’y a pas de place pour ces restrictions draconiennes au droit de manifester dans une société démocratique. Une administration de Projet Montréal agira rapidement pour abroger ces amendements.

FTB: Parlons maintenant de la question de la manifestation contre la brutalité policière. Quelle est votre position à ce sujet?

Bergeron: La question de la manifestation contre la brutalité policière est complexe, compte tenu qu’elle dégénère régulièrement dans la violence et le chaos. Les maires précédents ont ignoré ce problème, ont permis qu’il arrive et ont tenu une conférence de presse le lendemain pour dénoncer la violence et marquer des points politiques.

Mon approche serait différente. Je m’assiérais avec les organisateurs, je dialoguerais et je m’assurerais que la manifestation puisse être tenue sans restriction, mais dans le respect du bien public et de l’importance du maintien d’un environnement sécuritaire pour tous.

Mon administration ferait tout en son pouvoir pour s’assurer que les manifestations aient lieu sans violence ou provocation. Si nous échouons, nous demanderons à la police de cibler ceux qui ont commis des actes criminels et les condamner en conséquence. Il est important, dans ce contexte, que la police cible ceux qui sont coupables, sans criminaliser tout un groupe pour des délits isolés.

Je ne crois pas, contrairement à mes adversaires, que l’on peut défendre le droit de manifester, ou des rues sécuritaires, mais pas les deux. Je crois que l’on peut trouver un juste milieu pour respecter les droits de tous les citoyens. Trouver ce compromis est le rôle d’un gouvernement responsable, et ce sera le rôle de mon administration.