This is part of an on-going series putting the spotlight on local candidates, electoral districts and municipal politics in Montreal. It is our intention to interview candidates from all parties.

As to the style of this and other interviews, the answers are not direct quotations. Who wants to read a transcript besides NSA analysts anyways? I prefer to paraphrase, though I’ve been careful to fully capture the spirit and content of each response. Ergo it’s not verbatim but as close as I can make it. I hope you enjoy.

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Mary Ann Davis has lived in Verdun for over twenty years, having moved to Montreal as soon as she could get out of Thetford Mines. As a child, her father had taken her to Montreal on a business trip and in Phillips Square together they sat munching on ice cream cones. She vividly recalls taking in all that was around her, enjoying the comings and goings of so many people and deciding that this was the city for her.

Ms. Davis is a union organizer, LGBTQ activist and Projet Montréal candidate for Verdun borough mayor.

West Vancouver Park on Nun's Island in the borough of Verdun (photo Wikimedia Commons)
West Vancouver Park on Nun’s Island in the borough of Verdun (photo Wikimedia Commons)

What’s the big issue, for you and the people you wish to represent, that will define this election?

Nun’s Island needs a new school. The current primary school on the predominantly residential and upper-middle class island is the largest in the province with over 900 students. A new school has been officially required since 2007 but there’s been too little movement on the issue.

The biggest problem is that there’s little available land left on the island and all of it is in private hands waiting to be developed into townhouses and condo complexes. With more than 22 000 residents living on the island, we believe a new school is a major priority.

The current borough government wants to place the school in a park, adjacent to two of the island’s major thoroughfares. The site is too small to accommodate the large new school which is required to serve residents’ needs, meaning if the current plan goes ahead, we’ll be right back where we started, needing another school, in but a few years’ time.

We think this is profoundly irresponsible. Moreover, Nun’s island will soon need a secondary school as well, given current demographic trends. We feel it’s far better we plan for those future realities now rather than deal with the consequences later on.

What has the current administration done about this issue?

The current Union Montreal borough administration has not handled this well. They made it a needlessly divisive issue; people are being harassed, tires have been slashed. Keep in mind that the Verdun borough mayor’s office has been raided by UPAC three times; it’s clear to me someone may have some significant real estate interests.

There’s enough undeveloped land on Nun’s Island for between eight and ten thousand more apartments or condos. That’s a lot of potential tax revenue. But Projet Montréal has thoroughly studied this issue, has analyzed the OCPM’s 71-page report and we’ve come to a different conclusion: private land should be used for new schools.

It’s ridiculous to put a too small school in the middle of a park. Other lots have been offered by private developers, so we’d really like to know why the current Union Montreal government is so insistent on the location the OCPM deemed insufficient.

How has Verdun changed since you moved here?

Well, the first week I lived here there was an arsonist on the loose.

So it has improved?

Ha! Yes, by leaps and bounds. There were parts of Verdun you simply didn’t walk around late at night by yourself back then, today Verdun’s nothing like that. Real estate speculators keep indicating it’s one of many ‘next Plateaus’ in our city. There’s certainly been some gentrification, but this has been problematic as well. Verdun is an affordable inner-ring suburb and I’d like to keep it that way.

Wellington Street in Verdun (photo by StudyInMontreal.info)
Wellington Street in Verdun (photo by StudyInMontreal.info)

Tell me about the community you wish to represent, what are their needs?

Verdun is now a very multi-cultural community, with large Chinese, Haitian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Rwandan communities. We also have a surprisingly large Latino community.

But all too often I find these diverse communities living in silos – I’ve been walking around visiting apartment buildings where only one ethnic group can take up an entire building. That needs to change.

Further, many immigrants feel completely disengaged from civic politics, some have even been incredulous when I told them that they had the right to vote in our municipal elections. Can you believe it?

What do you want to accomplish if elected borough mayor?

Aside from solving the public school problem in Nun’s Island, I want to revitalize our main commercial arteries with more locally-owned small businesses. We also need to avoid a ‘condo ghettoization’ of Verdun and secure low-cost housing.

I’d also like to get citizen committees up and running on specific issues, be it new schools or what our needs are vis-a-vis the Champlain Bridge replacement. Ultimately, we need a far more engaged citizenry, so that we can resuscitate Verdun’s greatest single characteristic – its community spirit.

Is Montreal a gay sanctuary?

From my perspective, yes, absolutely, but we need to be aware of how recent this is. When I first moved to Montreal I did so because small-town Québec wasn’t terribly interested in being open and inclusive towards homosexuals.

But we absolutely must remember that, even as recently as twenty years ago, gay-bashings were far more frequent and the Montreal police even had a ‘morality squad’ which was all too often employed in raiding underground gay clubs, beating the shit out of people, and/or patrolling Mount Royal ticketing men for ‘cruising.’ It’s probably very surprising for young people today to hear such things.

What changed on a local level?

About twenty years ago the gay community in Montreal got organized and began pushing for reforms. It helped that there was a human rights commission set up to investigate anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, not to mention all the bad press the Sex Garage raid produced. But things really picked up when the gay community began concentrating in what is today the Gay Village and local politicians realized that the LGBTQ community as a whole was increasingly wealthy and far better connected.

Once politicians realized we were organized and resourceful (not to mention swimming in disposable income), they became sincerely interested in ‘the gay vote.’ The rest, as they say, is history.

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Montrealers go to the polls November 3rd 2013. For the love of all that’s good and holy, please go vote. Make sure your name’s registered by calling Elections Québec.

This is part of an on-going series putting the spotlight on local candidates, electoral districts and municipal politics in Montreal. Though it’s our intention to interview candidates from all parties, so far our efforts have been hampered by the lack of established political parties in the city.

We’ll do what we can to present a broad spectrum of candidates and issues of concern to all Montrealers, though so far we’re limited to only one citizen-driven political party with established local representatives who actually want to talk. I hope this changes, though on a personal note, I’m less than enthusiastic about candidate-driven ‘political parties’ organized top-down rather than from the grassroots. I should emphasize this is my personal bias, and not the opinion of Forget the Box.

As to the style of this and other interviews (not all of which will be done by me), the answers are not direct quotations. Who wants to read a transcript besides NSA analysts anyways? I prefer to paraphrase, though I’ve been careful to fully capture the spirit and content of each response. Ergo it’s not verbatim but as close as I can make it. I hope you enjoy.

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The Peter-McGill district is defined (working counter-clockwise from the north) by the mountain, Westmount, the 720/Guy/Notre-Dame in the south (i.e. including everything up to Little Burgundy and Griffintown), with an eastern edge created by University, Pine and Parc. It includes Concordia and McGill, the remnants of the Golden Mile, much of the modern central business district not to mention a multitude of institutions. St-Catherine and Sherbrooke streets run down the middle of the district.

It is a demonstration of the incredible contrasts of our city. The juxtaposition of so much diversity in a part of town you could walk across in half an hour makes it a fascinating place to want to represent.

Consider the district has a very high median income, over $70 000 per annum in 2009, yet also a significant homeless problem, at about 10% of the local population in 2006 (and I’m assuming both these figures have increased since). Moreover, an incredible 45% of the district’s residents live below the poverty line (many of which are students).

Though only 22% of residents speak French at home, 63% are bilingual in both official languages. Immigrants represent 44% of the local population, the majority of them Chinese, though immigrants from Lebanon, Morocco and France are also well represented in the district.

What’s curious about Peter-McGill, is, first, that small-scale enterprises seem to thrive near the large residential sectors of the district and second, that the district has large depopulated areas, notably in the central business and retail district towards the eastern edge of Peter-McGill. Suffice it to say there are a lot of competing interests here and it will be a difficult task for any potential candidate.

I met up with Jimmy Zoubris, city councillor candidate for Projet Montréal in Peter-McGill district, at one of my favourite local cafés, the Shaika in NDG.

What do you like about the city?

This. Small, independently owned and operated cafés, bistros, restaurants. These are a rarity in the suburbs, but in the city, they’re everywhere.

Trendy little coffee shops are competing one-on-one with major chains and it often looks like the little guy’s winning. There’s a lot of potential.

It’s certainly what my district could use more of, especially as you get closer to the downtown core. Projet Montréal wants to empower entrepreneurs and support the development of more small businesses. Too much of the downtown is dead after five or six.

IMG_1162

You’re a small businessman and we’ve spoken before of your thoughts concerning the necessity for a better business climate for small-scale entrepreneurs; what can the city do to improve the situation?

People don’t like empty storefronts on our main commercial arteries. It’s a peculiar problem. It doesn’t mean one business has driven others out of business and are winning capitalism, it means property values have increased out of step with actual business revenue.

And like a virus it can spread to a whole block; remember what Saint Catherine’s from Fort to Lambert-Closse looked like a few years ago? It was a ghost town!

Projet Montréal wants to change all that and so do I. The city has the resources to initiate buy-local campaigns and develop web portals and social media sites and applications for local businesses and business development.

The city needs to pay attention to merchant’s needs, especially on the small end of the scale. Simple improvements to sidewalks, be it by repairing old cement, or installing recycling bins and benches, whatever, improvements like these can do a lot to help local businesses.

And on top of that, the city should probably become more involved in promoting the creativity and uniqueness of local goods and services, and the fact they’re so much more available to urban citizens than suburbanites. Facilitating a better business environment that supports local entrepreneurs is one part of a broad plan to reverse population loss to the suburbs.

What do you like the most and what do you like the least about living in your district?

Like? Well, for one thing the nightlife. It’s not just Crescent Street, on the whole we’re well equipped with a wide variety of restaurants, bars, bistros, nightclubs to suit all tastes.

It’s the part of town that seems to be on all the time, and I don’t mind that. For a lot of Montrealers this is an exciting, entertaining district.

As to what I like least, it’s the class extremes, too much obscene wealth next to abject poverty. We have about 2000 homeless in this district, that’s a problem that’s been ignored for far too long.

What do you propose to fix it?

The city should take the lead, partner with established charities like Acceuil Bonneau and work to increase their capacity, possibly by securing abandoned residential and institutional properties that haven’t sold in many years. Coincidentally, there’s an abandoned old folks home across from the CCA that hasn’t sold in over a decade. No doubt we should definitely collaborate with established charities and see if we can help them help others better.

There are well over one hundred thousand students living in what most would consider to be ‘downtown’ Montreal or in the most urban first ring suburbs. It’s clear they’re politically motivated, and yet the youth don’t participate in Montreal municipal elections. What’s Projet Montréal doing about this?

For one we have 19 candidates under the age of 35. Granted, that’s not exactly young, but we’re doing what we can and as you might imagine, we have a lot of volunteers under the age of 30.

Richard Bergeron proposed a few years ago that the city open week-long voting booths in the CEGEPs and universities to facilitate voting for Montreal’s students. It’s no different than absentee voting anywhere else, and we certainly have the technology to make it work. But Union Montréal struck down the idea, instead permitting those who own property in the city to vote even if they live and pay municipal taxes elsewhere.

It’s sickening really, and it’s a kind of disenfranchisement as well. Of course, the political establishment in this city has been leery about the student vote since the early 1970s, when the party created by the students nearly ousted Mayor Jean Drapeau.

What would you like to see wiped off the map or otherwise expelled from Montreal?

What a question! Ha! Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll answer it in two parts. For one, I’d like to officially banish Jeff Loria (chuckles all around, Jeff Loria is the art collector who ran the Expos into the ground). I’d put up a sign telling him to go back home to Florida (more laughs).

As to what I’d like to see disappear, definitely the big gaping hole where the Ville-Marie Expressway divides Old Montreal from the rest of the city. It has to be covered. Even if nothing’s put on top of it and we leave a big open field of grass, it would be a major improvement over how it currently stands. My understanding is that the Palais des Congrès is looking to expand on the western edge of the remaining trench and the CHUM will expand on the eastern edge, the city should step in and cover the rest.

We need to stitch this city back up, it’s been divided – physically, culturally – for far too long. Projet has a plan to change all that.

Welcome to a series of profiles on candidates running in the 2013 Montreal municipal election. We begin with Sujata Dey, Projet Montreal‘s candidate in Darlington.

I found myself in front of a community centre/library in a converted office block on a muggy summer Sunday afternoon. High up on Cote-des-Neiges Road, the mountain still forms the backdrop looking towards the city, with the road crawling out from the gap between Mount Royal and Westmount like a river pouring forth from a waterfall.

Cote-des-Neiges Road is a never-ending torrent of humanity, the eponymous borough well represented by its main thoroughfare. The borough, Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, is the most populous of Montreal’s many boroughs and is arguably one of the most cosmopolitan and integrated neighbourhoods in all of Canada.

The Cote-des-Neiges component is itself more heavily and densely populated and has served, nearly consistently since the end of the Second World War, as the ‘first neighbourhood’ for many generations of immigrants. This is as true today as it was more than sixty years ago.

I was there to cover the nomination of Ms. Sujata Dey, a businesswoman with deep roots in the community, as Projet Montreal city councillor candidate for the Darlington district of the aforementioned borough. Darlington, the northernmost part of Cote-des-Neiges, is also one of the poorest and most ignored parts of the city. Suffice it to say, Ms. Dey wants to change all that.

The room was packed with some seventy people who, historically, have been all but ignored by the city’s former political machines. Sure, some of the people here may be paid lip service in the immediate run-up to the election: a photo-op, a promise to encourage diversity or something along those lines. It doesn’t tend to go much farther than that.

Cote des Neiges street in the Darlington district
Cote des Neiges street in the Darlington district

Regardless, the room was full, the people attentive. I’ve been to a lot of nomination meetings; few have had this kind of turnout.

I would have assumed these people would be the most disinterested, not for lack of understanding or being able to devote the necessary time, but simply because they’ve been ignored for so long. It goes to show the conventional thinking – much like conventional politics in general – isn’t worth much.

The people gathered care. They were willing to sacrifice a precious day off to do their civic duty and implicate themselves in the process by which we might actually turn things around in our city.

Ms. Dey made a fully bilingual presentation; two languages are required to cover all bases, so to speak, with children translating into other languages in whispers for their grandparents. She mentioned she wants an ethics code, greater operational transparency, a system of checks and balances – some people’s eyes lit up, incredulous.

Why doesn’t this exist already? Why does it always seem that Montreal is missing the bare minimum requirements for a sustainable democracy?

Ms. Dey pushed on into new territory with a point made by several Projet Montreal candidates: she wants an audit. Audit the borough, audit the city, audit the departments, audit everything to see precisely where and how we’re wasting so much of our tax revenue.

The idea of an audit is wise, though it would be a hard sell. That said, it could result in a cheaper government to run.

Again, it makes me wonder why we’re not already doing it on a yearly basis. Cries of corruption in municipal politics and local construction firms date back to before the war. Despite its historical precedence, I would argue strongly that we not consider inherent corruption as an element of our culture.

Ms. Dey continued, pointing out the lack of vital community space for such a diverse, growing population. As an example, she mentioned that the Filipino Chess Club was thrown out of their former informal home – a Tim Horton’s.

In communities such as these, the demand for community space far outweighs what’s available, another victim of ‘traditional’ thinking which stipulates, ignorantly, that recent arrivals don’t have time for trivial social gatherings. The reality is quite different.

Recent arrivals not only need a lot of community space, but they actually make good use of it. Every room in this office block turned community centre was occupied; once we were done we were hurried out so the room could be converted for a reception.

The lack of available space is itself not too far removed from another point underlined by the candidate: most people who live in Darlington don’t know who their representatives are, simply because they haven’t bothered to introduce themselves to the locals. It’s hard to mobilize for a higher quality of life when you have not only never met your municipal representative, but further still, that the individual in question spends half the year golfing in Florida, or is otherwise ‘too busy’ to meet with his or her constituents.

This is on purpose. Our governments have been of the ‘laissez-faire’ variety that tends to shun civic engagement of any kind, largely because that gets in the way of private real estate interests, which, as we’re now becoming aware, seem to have dominated Montreal City Hall for about two decades.

The people of Darlington are committed citizens, engaged and neighbourly. They have no interest in private real estate deals. They need jobs, they need a housing plan, they need community-focused politicians to take on the slum lords who’ve rendered so much of the area’s so-called ‘affordable housing’ roach infested, leaky, mouldy and more.

What a sick city we live in. I would’ve expected nonsense like this back before the war, but today? In 2013? Ça n’a pas d’allure!

Ms. Dey was the only candidate Projet Montreal nominated for the district but the party took a vote anyways. It left an impression.

Whereas other groups would do this by acclamation, Projet Montreal actually went to the trouble of recording the vote. In that sense, Ms. Dey was elected to represent the party, a small yet nonetheless telling detail. The fact that there was a vote actually attaches the candidate to the people she aims to represent.

I’m sure some would deride this as mere pageantry, but I see it otherwise. At the very least it’s thorough; it doesn’t cut corners.

We should expect nothing less from our elected representatives; we go to the polls November 3rd.

Editors note: While this site is international in scope, and offers contributions from writers across North America and overseas, our home base is indisputably Montreal. As part of the continuing expansion of the News and Politics section we’ll be getting our noses dirty in the arena of municipal politics, assigning writers to cover contentious council meetings, report on local happenings that affect you and dig deep to find the Montreal stories you won’t find anywhere else. Today we welcome veteran reporter, editor and activist Wendy Kraus-Heitmann to the fold. Enjoy!

Montreal City Hall

Recently, I’ve had the privilege of becoming more involved in municipal actions and political activities here in the city of Montreal. I currently sit as the Sud-Ouest Borough representative for Citoyens Responsables de leurs Animaux de Compagnie, a group dedicated to changing and modernizing Montreal regulations concerning companion animals. This has required me to attend municipal and borough council meetings, make presentations and offer moral support.

One of the most striking things I noticed at these meetings is they are overwhelmingly white, male, and frankly: old. Montreal is a young, dynamic multi-cultural and multi-coloured city. There are no shortage of women here either. And yet face after face invariably belonged to a white male over 50 (often older) in a business suit. And not because of decorum. There’s a difference between a man who wears a suit because he has to, and a man who wears a suit because it’s just natural to him. While I’ve got nothing against suits and actually rather appreciate a finely tailored one, I’m pretty sure Montreal doesn’t have enough Professional Suits per capita to merit such a high level of representation.

With very rare exception, the women were pretty much older, white, and in suits as well. Despite 50% of islanders not speaking French as their first language, the representation of anglo and allophones is abysmal. While the same could be said about provincial and federal politics, recently great strides have been made in these areas. Students have been getting involved straight out of school and more women now sit in the House of Commons than ever before. So what is happening on the municipal level?

Council Chambers

Nothing it seems. Municipal politics, except for some excitement over Projet Montreal a few years ago, seems to be largely absent from the young and non-white radar. Question period, a beautiful concept enshrined in law where at the beginning of every municipal and borough meeting the representatives are required to take and answer questions from the public, is largely dominated by the same older people complaining about the same petty issues (not that vandalism and noise aren’t important but don’t we have more?) and being brushed off. And that doesn’t just end with council; I recently attended the Annual General Meeting for the Point St. Charles Community Clinic (the only CLSC of its kind in the province where it’s actually a non-profit corporation and run by the community) and probably 90% of the room was people over 80, despite the community being full of youth and families.

And yet during provincial and federal elections, my facebook newsfeed will be exploding with articles, updates, impassioned pleas, and buddies turned candidates and campaign workers. Strangely, many of these same people can’t name their city councillor and borough rep.

Photo courtesy of spacingmontreal.ca

The issue certainly isn’t that people don’t care. We live in a protest and complain culture in Montreal. The issue certainly isn’t that people are generally pleased with the status quo, as conversations about inconvenient transport, bixi overspending (how exactly does one fuck up a bike sharing service in Montreal?) and potholes hang over every terrasse conversation like the scent of cigarette smoke in summer. Community initiatives are always going on where people are planting renegade gardens and looking for compost groups and sharing cooperative vegetable growing resources. So how are we missing out on this critical aspect of civic involvement?

Meetings are held monthly for the borough and the city as a whole. In addition, the agglomeration council (a council of Montreal plus the demergered suburbs) meets monthly. Meetings are usually held at 7pm (lately there have been some times where they have been held at 2pm, despite the time on the city website still reading 7pm, so be careful and double check). If you want to be on the list to ask a question you’ll need to be there between 6 and 6:30 to get on the list, and many boroughs only allow residents to ask questions so you’ll need to give your address. All the information for various borough city halls and meeting times can be found on the Ville de Montreal website, and we’ll be covering more meetings in this space. As excited and passionate as people are in this city about anything political, the only thing I can think of is that a lack of promotion is preventing people from recognizing the potential for municipal and local community level involvement. So let’s get to work.

A more compact Turcot interchange design (http://www.montreal2025.com/pdf/Turcot_medias.pdf)

Before I write about the event I attended on Thursday I want to remind readers of the urgency of the situation of the Turcot Interchange.

As I write this many lanes on the structure are closed for emergency repairs, snarling traffic, adding to motorists’ stress and pumping extra greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Much of the underneath of the structure is covered in wire mesh to prevent chunks of it from falling right off. Though some readers may not sympathize with motorists’ issues, giant chunks of concrete falling from heights of up to 100 feet in the air isn’t exactly good for anyone.

Former candidates Richard Bergeron and Louise Harel with Mayor Gérald Tremblay (montrealgazette.com). They all endorse Montreal's new plan.

The event I attended on April 29th was a presentation of a newly-completed alternate proposal of the Turcot Intersection and yards in response to that of the MTQ (Ministère des Transports du Québec) plan that has been highly criticized by local residents, environmentalists and others. Noteworthy is that this new Montreal plan has been endorsed by all three main City of Montreal party leaders, Gérald Tremblay, Louise Harel and Richard Bergeron, as well as Westmount Mayor Peter Trent (Westmount borders directly on some of the work to be done).

Absent from the meeting was anyone at all from the Charest Liberal party, who have final say in the matter and who stated their rejection of the new plan practically before it was released.

Sud-Ouest borough Mayor Benoit Dorais, (courtesy of ville.montreal.qc.ca) spoke to a full gymnasium.

It was Sud-Ouest borough Mayor Benoit Dorais who convened the meeting, aimed at informing borough residents of the new plan as well as endorsing it. The meeting was hosted by Dorais and a panel of experts and follows the release of the plan last week. Residents turned out in droves, nearly filling the CRCS Saint-Zotique recreational facility’s gymnasium. The meeting started off with Dorais explaining the opposition to the MTQ Turcot plans and the issue of the MTQ proceeding as if there was none. Criticisms of the MTQ here are many.

There is that expropriation of homes in the Tanneries part of St-Henri and condos nearby. The MTQ plan places much priority on increasing car traffic and little on public transit and would actually increase the area taken up by the interchange itself. The MTQ did not look at best practices nor interchange scenarios that were readily available and have been proven successful in cities such as Chicago and Shanghai. In fact they actively sought to discredit some international planners’ recommendations. An initial cost estimate of 800 million dollars by the MTQ has grown to 2.5 billion and does not seem to be gaining precision with time.

Montreal’s new project can be viewed at http://www.montreal2025.com/pdf/Turcot_medias.pdf and was presented by Alain Trudel of the City of Montreal.

I’d like to point out that yes, the new plan does look like a roundabout. However it is actually nothing close to that. The concept basically uses the clover leaf interchange model and compacts it by having the traffic circles piled one on top of another. The north-south and east-west highways remain uninterrupted and there are no out of the ordinary mergers, exits or lane changeovers.

The Montreal plan succeeds in their main goal of reducing the land covered by the interchange. It adds many possibilities for decreasing the need for single occupancy vehicles, such as adding a tramway linking downtown with parts of Lachine and LaSalle, new AMT train stations and links to western parts of the island including the proposed airport link, keeping much of the highway infrastructure raised to allow for easy mobility between bordering neighbourhoods and designating highway lanes for taxis and public buses. This means that this plan strongly facilitates cuts in greenhouse gases.

Speakers at the event also pointed out that this new structure would be rather unique in design and could become something that Montreal is known for, like the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. They also presented many unique opportunities in other areas of the Turcot Yards such as creating an expanded parkland south of the Falaises St-Jacques, allowing some of the area to return to its natural wetland state, creating unique connections to the Lachine Canal for non-motorists and general infrastructure beautification.

In terms of project economics, the new Montreal plan takes into consideration return on investment. This philosophy was used in the development of Montreal’s Quartier International which has since won international awards. Spinoffs from having more Turcot Yards land available for development and using infrastructure beautification would generate more tax revenues, allowing for this project to pay for itself in a shorter time than the MTQ plan.

Since both sides, Montreal and Quebec City, may have their merits (remember Quebec City not wanting to build another raised structure?), a project of this magnitude must include much more collaboration between the two than is happening. I think we’d all like to see this before the existing monstrosity begins collapsing on the roads and people underneath.

The Montreal municipal election results are in, or at least most of them are. Some great things happened that really set Montreal on a course of progress. Meanwhile, other things happened, or rather didn’t happen, that keep us right where we are, in a mire of corruption and pro-corporate cronyism.

It all depends on how you look at things, or rather how see the glass of water (insert water meter scandal joke here). Forget the Box now offers you two different views of what happened, take your pick:

The glass half full

The scene at Le National was electric. There was hope in the air and people were celebrating. It wasn’t the victory everyone had hoped for, but it was progress and quite a bit of it, at that. A few weeks ago Forget The Box endorsed Projet Montreal and Richard Bergeron as the party capable of bringing new, progressive ideas to City Hall (read more)

The glass half empty

Despite eight years in power with not much to show for it except a trail of corruption, Gerald Tremblay will remain the mayor of Montreal. This means that projects he has given the green light to will most likely continue, including former petty thief and fraudster, now thug developer Christian Yaccarini’s Quadrilatere St-Laurent. The mayor seemed pretty adamant during his last administration (read more)

The scene at Le National was electric. There was hope in the air and people were celebrating. It wasn’t the victory everyone had hoped for, but it was progress and quite a bit of it, at that.

The screen at the Projet Montreal post-election party at Le National

A few weeks ago Forget The Box endorsed Projet Montreal and Richard Bergeron as the party capable of bringing new, progressive ideas to City Hall, cleaning up all the corruption that the present administration left and getting Montreal on track to becoming once again the booming metropolis that it once was. Voters listened, at least in certain parts of the city and in particular the Plateau.

Projet’s Luc Ferrandez is now the mayor of the borough and all three city councilors as well as all three borough councilors are Projet candidates as well. This gives Projet Montreal a real chance to govern a key part of the city and show what they can do.

Peter McQueen, city councillor-elect in Notre-Dame-de-Grace

Projet also made huge inroads in other parts of town. Peter McQueen, former Green Party candidate and longtime highly active member of the NDG community handily won the Notre-Dame-de-Grace district, making him the lone Projet voice on an otherwise Union Montreal-controlled borough council. Francois Limoges and Marc-André Gadoury won their council seats in the Rosemont-La-Petit-Patrie borough, though the other two seats and the borough mayor job went to Vision Montreal.

Projet’s Pierre Gagner is now the borough mayor of Ahuntsic-Cartierville and the Ahuntsic district is represented by Projet’s Émilie Thuillier, with the other seats split between Union and Vision. Meanwhile Projet’s Pierre Mainville and Sophie Thiébault picked up seats in Ville Marie’s St-Marie district and Sud Ouest’s Saint-Henri-Petite-Bourgogne-Pointe-Saint-Charles district respectively.

In all, Projet Montreal got 10 council seats, completely controls one borough, got the mayorality of another and got people elected in parts of the city no one expected them to. Not bad for a party that is just five years old, holding only three council seat going into the election and not thought to get anyone elected outside of the Plateau.

Richard Bergeron overcame some rather trivial things which were blown out of proportion by the corporate media but wasn’t elected mayor. However, the Projet candidate in the Jeanne-Mance district, Nimâ Valérie Machouf, won her seat. She’s Bergeron’s fellow-candidate, which means he takes her seat and has a voice on the council.

Results trickling in on the big board at Le National

Projet’s election success crosses economic, linguistic and ethnic lines, as does the party itself. Projet Montreal now has a platform to show Montrealers what they can do and hopefully set the stage for winning the next election.

As the party at the National continued well into the night and results continued to trickle in, one thing became apparent.   Montreal is a progressive city and there is now a progressive party that has a real chance to shake things up on a municipal level.

Not all came up roses this election, though. For the downside, click here

Back in 2005, I participated in a show at the now-defunct Les artistes du Toc Toc in Mile-End. It was called Tramway Trance and was a benefit for a new municipal political party called Projet Montreal.   I didn’t know that much about the party, except for the fact that they wanted to bring the Parc avenue tramway back, which sounded like a good idea to me.

As the night progressed, I did my performance then settled in to check out the rest of the show.   I briefly met Richard Bergeron who seemed at home among artists and people who aren’t the types that generally get associated with mayoral candidates.   This was Projet Montreal’s first election and while they didn’t come to power, Bergeron did get on the Plateau Borough Council.

Four years later, Montreal is going back to the polls again.   At first, it looked like Projet Montreal was poised to make significant gains in the Plateau and get nothing everywhere else.   That was a few months ago.   Now things are different.   They recently jumped eight percent in the polls and are showing up more and more on TV and in the newspapers.

It makes sense.

From water meters to financing irregularities to what seems like backroom dealing regarding the Quadrilatere St-Laurent project (more on this soon), Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s party seems to be dealing with a new scandal every day.   He’s also the guy responsible for the grossly unpopular attempted renaming of avenue du Parc and an attempt to turn all of Griffintown, a historic neighbourhood in the heart of the city, into a suburban-style shopping mall, among other fiascos.

Louise Harel, whom the mainstream media considers to be Tremblay’s main rival, doesn’t seem to be connecting with Montrealers as a whole, not to mention that she can’t speak English well enough to compete in a debate or properly translate her party’s “redemarrer Montreal” slogan.   Benoit Labonte would probably have been a better choice as leader for Vision Montreal, though he is still covered in some of the Tremblay dirt thanks to his time in the mayor’s party.

Meanwhile, Projet Montreal has been putting forward ideas that actually could change things in Montreal for the better.   The tramway plan is back and much bigger than before.   There would be trams on St-Laurent Boulevard as well as Cote-des-Neiges and Mount-Royal, another one running along Centre street through Pointe-St-Charles and Griffintown and a free tram on Ste-Catherine Street downtown.


These would be an integral part of a broader transportation strategy (PDF) that would emphasize reserve bus lanes like the existing ones on avenue du Parc and Pie IX as well as new ones on several major streets, including one that goes all the way to Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport in Dorval.   This strategy also includes a plan to extend the metro’s blue line westward past Snowdon all the way to Montreal West, something many have been requesting for years but none of the other parties seem ready to endorse.

The Projet Montreal approach is an urbanist approach to urban development.   It is part of a strategy designed to reverse the American-style trend that has seen people move out of the city to the suburbs and commute back by personal car.   According to Bergeron’s introductory message in the party’s platform booklet (PDF format), this trend began here in the mid 70s and because of already existing debt, the city wasn’t able to deal with it.

“Between 1971 and 1986 Montreal lost 225,000 residents. Today, despite significant immigration, Montreal numbers 100,000 fewer than it did in 1971,” he observes, “economic cycles came and went strong growth in the second half of the 1980s, a dramatic downturn in the nineties, followed once again by ten years of prosperity and with them a succession of municipal administrations, each unable to halt Montreal’s decline. The exodus of middle-class families continued unabated.”

In particular, Bergeron points to mayor Tremblay’s record and cites the increase of personal car use aided by nine increases in transit fares under Tremblay’s administration.   He finds the mayor’s recent rhetoric about communal transport rings hollow, given that the mayor is pushing for more roads and bridges.

“How is it that, as mayor, he never attempted to reverse the trends that are so harmful to the city which he governs?” Bergeron asks, “the only plausible answer is that he is still enthralled by the now discarded ‘American Way of Life’, with its highways, its motorized mobility, its seas of bungalows and shopping malls, all running on cheap oil. Gérald Tremblay’s idea of   progress, of modernity, of wealth and even of human happiness in other words his most deeply-held convictions and his cultural values all are products of the early 1960s.”

Bergeron argues that this worldview has lead to the recent economic crisis and is now being rejected worldwide.   Instead he proposes an approach similar to that employed successfully by cities like Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Stockholm, Portland, Amsterdam and others.

“Projet Montréal was founded with the precise intention of setting Montreal on the only course remaining at the beginning of the 21st century,” he argues, “there is therefore no need to reinvent the wheel…Let us draw knowledge and inspiration from the best urban achievements of the past thirty years.”

This course would not only see a more efficient and affordable transportation system, but a redeveloped marine gateway, development projects in general being done on a human scale with respect for history and roadwork that lasts.   In brief, Projet Montreal wants to make the city a place that people want to live in and can afford to do so.   They want to bring people (and especially families) back from the suburbs.

They don’t plan to break the budget doing so, either.   Instead, Projet Montreal proposes to eliminate wasteful spending.   Under Tremblay, most of the city’s big projects have been outsourced to private contractors.   This means the city is paying a bureaucrat to deal with the contractor and then paying the contractor to do the work.

Projet Montreal would cut back on giving municipal contracts to private contractors in favor of a better-trained civil service capable of realizing the projects on their own.   They will also end borough mayoralty and replace it with the borough president, have a single city council representing all the boroughs and an overall more transparent and accountable government.

They have brought in judge John Gomery (the man who some feel brought down the Paul Martin government) to oversee the ethics of their fundraising.   They also plans to limit the power of the executive committee and invite more citizens to participate in the political process both at the city council level and through neighbourhood councils.

Projet Montreal hopes to develop truly urban neighbourhoods with green spaces and affordable human-scale housing.   They want to expropriate buildings that have been abandoned or barricaded for over a year (remember what happened with the autonomous social centre?) as well as help integrate the homeless back into society.   This is clearly a platform that favors the people of Montreal over sometimes dubious business interests.

It’s also a platform that has a chance of being realized.   Voter turnout in Montreal elections is historically low, but with enough momentum, it could get higher.   If there is over 30% voter turnout this time around, Projet Montreal feels they have a chance of winning.

Considering all these factors, I’m pleased to announce that we at Forget The Box endorse all of the Projet Montreal candidates running in the Novemember 1st municipal election as well as Richard Bergeron in his candidacy for mayor of Montreal.   If you want to see this project come to fruition, too, you can make it happen by voting for the progressive choice, Projet Montreal.