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.