Meet Your Candidates – Jimmy Zoubris

Jimmy Zoubris avec Richard Bergeron

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.

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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.

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