Montreal's major mayoral candidates weigh in on arts, culture, community and corruption in an effort to win your vote
As Montreal enters into what is arguably the most critical municipal election in decades on Nov. 1, Hour approached the mayoral candidates and other relevant parties on their plans for city hall in view of the many significant issues and challenges it faces. Among these: alleged ethics breaches and corruption in the tendering and awarding of city contracts, a perceived failure to honour promises to arts and cultural communities, a dearth of public consultation on important city projects, a breakdown in communication with minority communities and a lack of transparency overall.
Addressing these questions and concerns are Louise Harel (of the Vision Montréal party), incumbent mayor Gérald Tremblay (Union Montréal), Monir Hossain (Ethnic Party of Montreal) and Richard Bergeron (Projet Montréal). Louise O’Sullivan of Équipe Louise O’Sullivan Parti Montréal Ville-Marie accepted our questions but, despite repeated requests, did not submit her responses before we went to press.
We would like to thank all of the aforementioned for their participation, and would ask the reader to note that all candidates’ answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
There have been a number of recent scandals that have rocked voter confidence in municipal politics. Will you introduce a city hall ethics commission and when?
Vision Montréal’s Louise Harel
Louise Harel I demand Premier Charest call a public inquiry [because] a police inquiry, while good, will only investigate the past. A public inquiry will investigate the whole tendering process.
Gérald Tremblay Elected officials must do whatever is necessary to maintain the confidence of the citizens by maintaining honesty, transparency and impartiality. That’s where we are headed with a stricter ethics code for elected officials, adopted in September following a study by the Commission de la présidence du conseil. We’ve also asked the Quebec government to establish an ethics commissioner with sanctioning powers. If this is not forthcoming, we will establish our own ethics commissioner.
Monir Hossain We will set up ethics committees in each borough. We’ll also look over the administrative procedure, such as how they deal with public contractors.
Richard Bergeron We announced an anti-corruption section in our platform for the Montreal police and will name an ethics commissioner to review the administrative services of the city, as well as assess the city’s real needs in a complete financial study. In Montreal we currently pay 30 to 50 percent more on any city construction project than elsewhere in the world… We will return to infrastructure spending and new work that costs 50 percent less, so that taxpayers get more for their dollar, and we can actually put our ambitious program in place.
How does your party plan to improve transparency at city hall?
Harel By creating the position of ethics commissioner, with sanctioning powers.
Tremblay There will be zero tolerance for corruption and conflicts of interest and this will be enforced via an anti-collusion clause in all contracts, as well as by the creation of a new telephone hotline to report fraud and waste. I also asked for and obtained the creation of a police fraud squad that will investigate the construction world. My party and I are best placed to end these abuses. That’s why I will put in place an action plan on tendering offers, a plan that I’ve already asked the city manager to draft.
Hossain We will immediately set up an ethics commission at city hall that will be led by the citizens of Montreal.
Bergeron For us, ethics are basic. If you are mayor, you are there to serve the citizens and finance future city projects, not hand out goodies to all your friends. We went directly to the Hon. Justice John Gomery to chair Projet Montréal’s fundraising campaign. We imposed very strict rules around our party financing, and opened our books to the public. In terms of financing, we’ve managed to ensure we won’t owe anyone when we enter office. This is so we have no debts and are free to serve citizens. We pledge to implement a participatory budgeting at all level also, based on experiments both in Montreal and elsewhere in the world, so that the population can determine budgetary priorities and the corresponding allocation of the city’s financial resources.
With the botched attempted renaming of Parc Ave. and the threatened expropriation of buildings on St-Laurent below Ste-Catherine (including Café Cleopatra, a show bar since 1893), there is the perception that city hall doesn’t respect public consultation. How will this be addressed?
Harel We want the developers to work with a local committee to review the socio-economic advantages of all big projects in the city. In the case of [St-Laurent Blvd.], a decision was taken at the last city council meeting that gives the developers a 60-month delay to [improve the project].
Tremblay I’m the one who created the city’s public consultation office, as well as Montreal’s public consultation policy. Both democratic tools allow citizens to influence decisions. In the case of the Ste-Catherine St. project, participants were in favour of a major intervention in the area. As per the office’s suggestion, the city and promoter have worked together and an architectural plan must be submitted to the city planning committee before a building permit is granted. Most of the office’s recommendations were included in the plan voted on by city council.
Ethnic Party leader Monir Hossain (middle) with candidates George Lemontzoglou (L) and Luis Corcuera (R)
Hossain Our party position is clear that the city’s heritage [buildings] will be preserved and protected so that future generations may appreciate Montreal’s wonderful and precious past. [Also], the initiative to change the name of Parc Ave. was wrong.
Bergeron We know that when the city conceives a project and imposes it on a population without proper consultation, it doesn’t work. Look at the Griffintown project, the Turcot Interchange, the Parc Avenue renaming debacle. I’ve travelled the world to study urban operations for 15 years, and one basic fact is that projects have to belong to the people – citizens must be informed partners, as well as share the risks on any project if it’s to work. We want public consultation that works concretely and quickly, so that citizens are partners in projects. This is a condition of how we will accomplish our program.
When the Politique de développement culturel de la Ville de Montréal plan was conceived two years ago at the Rendez-vous Montréal métropole culturelle, the city issued a statement saying it would work with its public partners and arts councils on a long-term plan for the development of Montreal’s cultural sector. Several local festivals and events have publicly stated they have not yet been consulted with respect to this dossier (including the Conseil des arts de Montréal). How will you rectify this?
Harel We have announced an action plan that will be financed at 1 percent of the city general budget. We applaud the new Quartier des Spectacles, the support of local libraries, but [we have] a cultural action plan that will add an extra $40-million per year. With this money, we will double the Conseil des arts de Montréal’s budget to $20-million, leaving $30-million to fund new projects.
Tremblay Reports were submitted at public consultations held after the city established its cultural development policy in 2005, including reports from Culture Montréal and Conseil des Arts de Montréal. Our policies and action plan reflect the cultural life of Montrealers, and the needs of the city’s festivals have been taken into consideration since the beginning. Recall that in 2008, the city increased assistance to small- and medium-sized festivals by about 35 percent, and we will continue to work with these partners on a daily basis.
Bergeron We want to revive the idea of Montreal as a city with cultural currency globally. In the short term, we’ll index the annual budget of the Conseil des arts de Montréal to the rate of inflation. Once past the current economic downturn, we’ll index the budget to the rate of economic growth, allowing the Conseil to increase its sphere of influence and support.
We’ll also impose a moratorium on the conversion of buildings that currently serve as studios for artists, craftspeople and other creative enterprises into residential properties like condos. This rapid conversion threatens a vital source of Montreal’s artistic wealth – the existence of affordable, multifunctional spaces in the midst of, and in step with, other forms of urban creativity.
We’ll also draw up a policy to regulate (on a citywide basis) the use of Montreal’s disused industrial structures, as well as zoning changes now made borough-by-borough that adversely affect the artistic community. These zoning changes will also serve to protect religious institutions and prohibit construction on the mountain.
Will your administration help the smaller festivals forced to cope with the logistical fallout, and financing challenges, incurred by the recent Francofolies and Jazz Festival date changes?
Harel When I was Quebec municipal affairs minister, I supported various festivals in Montreal… and I am motivated to continue supporting these festivals, which are popular here and abroad.
Tremblay To maximize the Quartier des Spectacles, we are setting aside $1-million to help develop events and festivals, as well as to help increase their opportunities and visibility. This, in addition to the $13-million from the Partenariat du Quartier des spectacles (2009-11).
Hossain We will always support the small cultural festivals and produce more funds for their activities.
Recent statistics show that skilled new immigrants to Montreal aren’t finding work here. What responsibilities does the city have towards new immigrants?
Harel There is a high rate of unemployment among immigrant youth – around 27 percent among young blacks and 33 percent among Muslims, which indicates an integration problem. And prejudices. I propose a diversity bureau that would report directly to the city senior management and which would create job initiatives for Montrealers from cultural communities.
Tremblay Between now and 2011, 350,000 jobs will need to be filled in the Greater Montreal area. Montreal’s municipal public service cannot absorb this work force on its own, but our administration, with the help of the Quebec government, is participating in internship programs like Valorisation Jeunesse (600 summer jobs) and professional sponsorship programs ($2-million during the next mandate).
Hossain We will offer jobs according to their qualifications, help them to learn [the] language and, most importantly, support the provincial government to speed up the process of converting or recognizing foreign diplomas, so that immigrants can integrate themselves into Quebec and the professional world more quickly.
Projet Montréal’s Richard Bergeron
Bergeron There will be a massive retirement at [city hall] in the next two mandates, which is a historic window of opportunity to hire employees from new communities, especially if you are an administration like ours that is genuinely committed to better representation… We will also make sure big contracts aren’t handed over to friends of our campaign. We will change the criteria for qualifying for contracts, making more and smaller contracts that are accessible to local businesses and community groups.
What is your assessment of Montreal police efforts to improve relations with the city’s visible minorities in the wake of the Montreal North riots of 2008?
Harel I believe we are facing racial profiling and I am really enthusiastic about what we will accomplish [toward] solving this problem with the election of Vision Party candidate Harry Delva [of the Maison d'Haiti, a community centre in St-Michel].
Tremblay Montreal police have made important citywide efforts in recent years, especially since the events in Montreal North, to improve trust and build bridges with Montreal youth. I approve of and encourage these actions. Montreal police have also hired community development consultants in eight boroughs and have started the COOP and Échange jeunesse programs at the cost of $3.3-million over three years.
Hossain Our position is to hire more visible-minority police personnel in stations [and neighbourhoods] where more visible minority people live. This will help resolve the tension between the police force and the minority communities.
Bergeron Intercultural issues need to be structurally embedded in city politics and new communities need to be represented on the municipal council. We have excellent candidates running this election for Projet Montréal that represent their neighbourhoods. The current mayor of Montreal North, Marcel Parent, has no ties to Montreal North. Our candidate for Montreal North borough mayor, Ronald Boisrond, is Haitian and brilliant and one of our best candidates. He understands Montreal North because he grew up there and lives there. When he’s on the municipal council and we discuss issues, he will naturally bring elements of analysis and proposals that will reflect the interests of his community.