The Big Show, part 1

I went to City Hall Monday night wondering if Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay would be successful in ramming through the Angus Development Corporation’s controversial Quadrilatère  project or if citizen opposition either at the meeting’s question period itself or at the recent OCPM meetings would sway a councilor to take a stand or maybe force the mayor himself to rethink his decision. I left wondering the same thing, four and a half hours later.

Actually, the evening started even earlier. People who wanted to speak had to get tickets starting at 5pm. These didn’t guarantee you could speak, though. A ticket just got you into the 6:30pm raffle where the prize was your chance to participate in democracy in the form of a spot in line.

Once the names were drawn, a rather odd sound echoed through the building announcing that it was time for the big show to begin. Only the elected officials themselves and accredited media (ie. not Forget The Box, but to be honest, I only had a pencil and notepad on me and didn’t really try) could get into the big room.

The rest of the huddled masses got to watch the proceedings outside of the council chamber on giant-screen closed-circuit television and as TV shows go, this one had the potential to be really interesting. There was some intense advance publicity in the form of the City’s official release about the lower main and a response from Culture Montreal, Heritage Montreal, Club Soda and others, not to mention all the press the water meter and campaign finance scandals were getting. Would it live up to its billing?

City Council for the rest of us: Tremblay on closed-circuit TV

The show got off to an interesting start with “interventions” by members of the public. Everyone got to ask two questions, some tried for more and were shut down, others asked questions that seemed like they were five questions and a smaller group asked their quick questions, got their quick responses and left.

It took over an hour for the Café Cleopatra / Angus Development situation to be mentioned, but it wasn’t by a member of the public, but rather by Tremlay’s Minister of Culture Catherine Sévigny hinting at it while jumping in on a question about tourism. Eventually, some of the members of the Save The Main coalition got their chance to speak.

First up was Louis Rastelli, who asked why the OCPM recommendations were ignored. Not satisfied with the response he got from councilor André Lavallée (he had directed his question at Mayor Tremblay) he asked why not just disband the OCPM, considering no one followed its recommendations.

Next up was Eric Paradis of Club Sin who brought up the issue of just why it was so important that Hydro-Quebec was brought in as a tenant. Could there be some people profiting from this situation? Considering that Angus’ non-profit status allow them to distribute the public money they get from Hydro unchecked, is there something going on here which the general public is not aware of? When Lavallée again responded in place of the Mayor, saying they needed more time to look at the OCPM report, Paradis followed up with a question about what the city is going to do for the artists this plan will displace.

Tremblay did respond, first claiming that Paradis didn’t get his facts straight about Angus. The mayor pointed out that only Desjardins and another group were investors, despite the fact that Paradis wasn’t only speaking about investors, but rather unofficial partners who might get some of the money through other, less official, deals with the company. He continued by promising that the City would do something for the displaced artists. He didn’t say or even hint at what that would be, though.

After a few more questions on other subjects, the public interventions were over. It was time for the debate. It was quite heated at first, dealing almost exclusively with the water meter scandal and the campaign finance scandal that recently hit the Tremblay administration.

After a while the debate lagged and the big show started to get boring. There were bursts of action, like when a backbencher went on about language issues, despite his mic and then all the room mics being cut.

This led to councilors not running for re-election giving their farewell speeches that were supposed to be five minutes, but were permitted to go (in some cases way) longer. When they were done, it was time to move on to section 20, which included the motion to authorize the eviction of Café Cleopatre and any other holdouts so Angus could put its plan into motion.

Then, the speaker left the podium and councilors started leaving the council chamber. Were they going on a break after four and a half hours? No, they were reconvening the next day at 9:30am.

So, the show had its exciting moments and it’s slow-moving boring parts, but the issue I came to see resolved wasn’t. This TV show was left to be continued…

(look for a report on the rest of the proceedings tomorrow on Forget The Box)

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