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!
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?
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.
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.