M-103, the Private Members’ Motion introduced in the House of Commons by Iqra Khalid, Liberal MP for Mississauga—Erin Mills, to fight Islamophobia in Canada has sadly and predictably sparked anger and debate. While most of the venom being spewed in comments sections and at rallies comes from Islamophobes afraid they may have to stop hating Muslims in public, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is fighting it in a different way, at least officially.

The CPC’s Religious Freedom Critic David Anderson introduced a counter-motion which doesn’t use the word Islamophobia and instead calls on the government to “condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious communities.”

Looks like this was the kind of “doesn’t sound that bigoted” cover some were waiting for. I’m now seeing arguments on social media that start by asking why Muslims should be singled out for protection. Of course these are made by some of the same types of people who have no problem singling them out for criticism.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly and Iqra Khalid

Generally, a few comments later, or sometimes even in the same paragraph, their cover drops and they show exactly why we need to take Islamophobia seriously. As if the recent Mosque attack in Quebec City, Friday’s “anti-Islam” blockade in Toronto and the threats received by Khalid and Heritage Minister Melanie Joly over this motion weren’t each enough to do just that.

The CPC approach sounds very familiar to that employed by opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and here in Canada as well. Instead of speaking out against police indiscriminately murdering people in communities of colour, some opted to promote the All Lives Matter narrative instead.

Basic deflection. Saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t whereas insisting that people say All Lives Matter instead means that you want everyone to ignore the disproportionate amount of young people of colour being murdered by police. No one counters a Stop Cancer fundraiser by saying All Diseases Matter.

And that’s exactly what’s happening here. Yes, there are hate crimes against other religions, too. Here in Montreal, synagogues get vandalized on a regular basis. Antisemitism is a problem that needs to be dealt with and people are trying to fight it. That doesn’t mean Islamophobia shouldn’t be attacked as well.

When there is a real and present danger to a specific group of people within a society, that danger needs to be admitted, addressed and fought. I’m not sure if a motion in the House of Commons is anywhere near enough to fight Islamophobia, but admitting that it is a problem that needs to be dealt with is essential.

The CPC would stop us from performing even that most basic of civic duties. Meanwhile, some of their leadership candidates are openly campaigning for the Islamophobic vote. It’s two sides of the same coin, like the All Lives Matter crowd and the open racists.

Defending the right of the special snowflakes in their base (two can play at that particular name game) to be bigots is no justification to block fighting Islamophobia. Muslims are a target and no amount of defensive re-wording of language will change that, only action.

* Featured image of David Anderson in the House of Commons

The federal government decided to get involved in the campaign to return the remains of two members of the Beothuck Nation, currently exposed in an Edinburgh Museum, to their native Newfoundland.

Chief Mi’sel Joe, of the Conne River Mi’kmaq band, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government have been trying for years to repatriate the skulls and burial goods of two members of the extinct indigenous nation of Beothucks.  The vestiges were taken from a grave site in Newfoundland in 1828.

The National Museum of Scotland had responded that it would only consider a claim made by the federal government in association with a Canadian National Museum. So Ottawa quietly joined the fight.

On Wednesday, CBC News got hold of a letter written by Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly to the director of National Museums Scotland (the parent association of the National Museum of Scotland, which is in Edinburgh).

“As the Government of Canada is committed to reconciliation with its Indigenous peoples, I am writing to inform you that it is now involved in this matter,” said the letter. “The Government of Canada considers this matter to be of considerable importance.”

The message was sent on May 29, as a notification to the NMS that Canada intended to put in an official request to claim the Beothuck remnants. CBC just got access to it through the Access to Information Act.

Chief Mi’sel Joe, the most prominent figure of the campaign, was happy and surprised to learn that Ottawa had taken this unusual initiative, reported CBC.

The Fascinating History of Beothucks

The Beothucks were the original inhabitants of Newfoundland. They cohabited with the Mi’kmaqs, and for a while, with European settlers before being declared extinct in 1829. There is no doubt that the arrival of the Europeans played a great role in their extinction, which certain historians call a genocide.

The remains currently in Edinburgh are those of Nonosabasut and his wife Demasduit, believed to be the aunt and uncle of the last known Beothuck, a woman named Shanawdithit. Their story is quite fascinating.

In 1818, conflicts between settlers and Beothucks were frequent in Newfoundland. One night, in retaliation for the theft of their fishing equipment, the local colony sent nine armed men to storm a Beothuck camp near Exploits River. Demasduit, wife of the leader Nonosabasut, was captured. Her husband was killed while trying to protect her and her infant son died a few days after.

Demasduit was taken into the colony and lived with a priest who gave her the white name of Mary March. Some unsuccessful attempts have been made to return her to her tribe in the summer of 1819. She died of tuberculosis one year later. Her body was retrieved by her tribe and placed in a burial hut, beside her husband and child.

According to Wikipedia, there was only 31 Beothucks remaining at that time. A Scottish explorer found the bones and other vestiges about nine year later.

Why so Quiet?

A briefing note addressed to Joly (presumably also accessed through the Access to Information Act) said that getting involved in the repatriation of the remains in Scotland “would be consistent with the government’s commitment toward reconciliation with Canada’s Aboriginal people… Return of these remains, or a concerted effort to have them returned, would be a high profile demonstration of that commitment.”

This begs the question of why this high profile demonstration has been exceptionally discreet so far. It’s possible that they wanted to avoid the diplomatic complications of a highly publicized feud between Scottish Museums and the Canadian government.

“The department is still assembling all of the elements required by the trustees of the museum in Edinburgh, in order to ensure the case is complete and as strong as possible,” said Pierre-Olivier Herbert, spokesperson for the department of Heritage.

Other Remains in Canada

It’s also possible that they didn’t want to wake the sleeping matter of the remains of 22 Beothucks in possession of various Canadian museums. In 2012, Mi’sel Joe had declared to the CBC that returning those remains to Newfoundland is “the respectful and right thing to do, for anyone.”  At the time, Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of History, where the remains of ten individuals lie, had named lack of resources as the reason for their failure to be proactive in the matter.

According to more recent statements of spokeswoman Éliane Laberge, they have received no formal request from Indigenous groups.

* Featured Image: A portrait of Demasduit, one of the last Beothucks of Newfoundland

I’m a progressive who is generally skeptical of the prospect of real, positive change coming from the Liberals, Canada’s so-called “natural governing party.” So far, Justin Trudeau has made it hard for me to maintain that skepticism. With Wednesday’s announcement of who would be the first people to sit in his Cabinet as our federal ministers, he’s made it damn near impossible to object and criticise.

Let’s have a look:

No Bill Blair

It’s not just about who Trudeau picked – it’s about who he didn’t. In particular, former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair was left out of the mix in the first round. The man who was responsible for reprehensible police tactics against protestors at the G20 summit won’t sit at the Cabinet table.

I was so sure he would have been included and be tasked with a portfolio like Defense or Public Safety that I had written a rant condemning this hypothetical choice. Fortunately I won’t have to publish it.

For Public Safety, Trudeau tapped longtime MP and former Cabinet Minister Ralph Goodale. For defense we have Harjit Sajjan, the new “badass” fave of many online. He’s a former soldier in the Canadian Forces, a former Vancouver Police detective, and a Sikh who proudly wears a turban.

Logical and Representative

Sajjan exemplifies the choices Trudeau made with his Cabinet. They are both logical and representative of Canada’s diversity.

We’ve got a soldier for Defense and a doctor, Jane Philpott, for Health. We also have a First Nations woman and former prosecutor Jody Wilson-Raybould heading up Justice. If Trudeau is serious about an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, she will be the person running it.

Catherine McKenna is the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Yes, you read that right; climate change is part of her title. She is a former lawyer who focused on international trade and competition. While I would have preferred an environmental activist, her experience may help at the UN Conference on Climate Change taking place very soon in Paris.

We also now have a Minister for Sport and Persons with a Disability. Carla Qualtrough, who got this portfolio, is a three-time Paralympic Games medalist.

Trudeau’s Cabinet is ethnically diverse and regionally representative. Also, as everyone knows by now, it has gender parity:

Montreal Represent!

My fellow Montrealers can rejoice. For the first time in a long time, Canada’s second-largest city is represented at the Cabinet table.

New Heritage Minister Melanie Joly during her campaign for Mayor of Montreal (photo Valeria Bismar)
New Heritage Minister Melanie Joly during her campaign for Mayor of Montreal (photo Valeria Bismar)

Melanie Joly who was elected in Ahuntsic-Cartierville is our new Heritage Minister. Trudeau recruited her and helped her win the nomination, so it was clear she would get something.

Judging by her campaign for Mayor of Montreal, her main areas of interest were culture and transport. Since Bus Rapid Transit lanes on the Trans-Canada just aren’t going to happen, a portfolio which includes Canada’s culture industries makes sense.

Transport went to Marc Garneau. The one-time astronaut and Liberal leadership contender returns to Parliament representing the newly created riding of NDG-Westmount.

Garneau won’t even have to leave his riding to find a transport issue that needs fixing. Bus service in NDG has been a bit of a nightmare lately.

Stephane Dion is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs, now known as Global Affairs Canada. As Canada’s face to the world, Dion is responsible for a huge portfolio.

It makes sense that he would get such an important role. Not only was he just a Harper proroguement away from being Prime Minister, he also managed to hold onto his seat in Saint-Laurent when his party was routed in Montreal, and Quebec overall, during the 2011 Orange Wave.

The new Minister of Youth and Intergovernmental Affairs was also elected in a Montreal riding, Papineau. Though I’m pretty sure he’ll be focused on his larger portfolio, being Prime Minister of Canada.

The Downside

Looking at this Cabinet, there is only one glaringly problematic choice for progressives and it’s in a pretty crucial area: finance. Trudeau picked Bay Street multi-millionaire Bill Morneau to head the department.

It’s not really that surprising. The Liberals are generally progressive on social issues and downright neo-con when it comes to money.

So what does this choice mean, given Trudeau’s play to the left with his election promise to run deficits and raise taxes on the 1%? To his credit, Morneau has expressed interest in income equality and said the tax code needs to be fixed, but, really, only time will tell.

The only other eyebrow-raising choice was Chrystia Freeland as Minister of International Trade. She oversaw two dozen layoffs at Reuters and helped ship those jobs to India, but it is possible to chalk that up to just following orders.

Grasping at Straws

There really isn’t much else to criticize. That hasn’t stopped some from trying, though.

First, there was a story about how five of Trudeau’s female ministers were considered Ministers of State, meaning less pay, while none of his male ministers were in that boat. Now, it seems like that situation will be rectified.

Now there is an issue raised by Kim Campbell, of all people, but shared by some on the left, about the fact that Defense Minister Sajjan is still technically in the Canadian Forces, as a reservist. The problem being that, as a Lieutenant-Colonel, he is part of the chain of command which he, as the Minister of Defense, is supposed to be above. The thing is, Sajjan is already in the process of getting his release from the military, the paperwork just takes time.

As someone who didn’t vote Liberal and are generally skeptical of the party, I’ve been looking for fault as much as anyone. There really is none to be found in his cabinet choices. Trudeau is starting off on the right foot, or rather, the left foot.

Yes, the other shoe will drop. His continued support for the Keystone XL pipeline and his “disappointment” expressed to President Obama when the US rejected the plan is an indication of where progressives will find fault with the Trudeau regime.

For now, though, it is all smiles and roses. I think we should make the most of this moment and get the most out of our new government. If Trudeau is playing to the left, we should support him. The moment he switches, we should call him on it.

The C-51 debate is coming up and there are plenty of issues Trudeau has promised change on and could well deliver. This is the time to get practical, and that means accepting the line that there is hope for change with the new government and encourage it to happen.

There will be plenty of reasons to criticize the Trudeau regime in the next four years. His Cabinet choices, at this point, aren’t among them.

Denis Coderre is the Mayor of Montreal. Let’s all let that sink in, the man who hangs with Club Charbonneau regulars, thinks it’s cool to lock up mask-wearing protestors and once helped make a coup happen in Haiti is now our mayor.

To put it mildly, it’s not the outcome I wanted, not in the slightest. That said, all is not bad, in fact some things could end up being quite good.

We lived through Gerald Tremblay and Michael Applebaum, so we can live through Coderre. They’re really not all that different.

What is different, and this is huge, is that Coderre does not have a majority on the city council. He only has 27 of the 33 seats required for one. Projet Montreal, with 20 seats, is now a very strong opposition, much stronger than they were after the last election.

They are also stronger at the borough level, retaining their control of the Plateau and Rosemont-La Petite Patrie and picking up all the city and borough council seats in Sud Ouest except for that of borough mayor. Projet’s Jason Prince very narrowly lost to incumbent and candidate for Marcel Côté’s Coalition Montréal Benoit Dorais.

projet montreal sud ouest bergeron
Projet Montreal candidates, now city and borough councillors in Sud Ouest (l-r) Craig Sauvé, Sophie Thiébaut, Anne-Marie Sigouin and Alain Vaillancourt with outgoing Projet leader Richard Bergeron in the centre

Meanwhile in Côte-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Projet’s seat count went from one to two, which also is huge. As NDG councilor Peter McQueen found out last time, one councilor can propose motions, but it takes a seconder for them to be heard and debated and in a council controlled by an opposing party that doesn’t listen to outside voices, that can mean nothing gets through. Now, Magda Popeanu, who beat uber incumbent Helen Fotopulos in the Côte-des-Neiges district and McQueen can support each other.

Projet leader Richard Bergeron won his seat in Saint Jacques in the Ville Marie borough. It was a bold move for him selecting a colistière (or running mate, whose seat the party leader takes if they aren’t elected mayor but their designated co-candidate is elected to council) outside of the safety of the Plateau.

This move paid off, ensuring that he can sit on the council as leader of the opposition. Yesterday, though, Bergeron decided that three elections are enough and he would only keep his seat, and the leadership of Projet, for the next 18-24 months then resign from politics for good.

This inevitably will mean a leadership race, the first in the party’s history. Whomever that leader will be will have to figure out who on the council the — Projet councillors can count on for support, if Bergeron hasn’t already set those particular wheels in motion by the time they take over.

Marcel Côté, whose colistière finished third to Popeanu and Fotopulos, doesn’t have a seat on council himself, but six of his teammates do. Some of them are ex-Union as are many of Coderre’s councillors, so them siding with Projet on key issues is doubtful at best, though you never know.

Mélanie Joly got four city councillors elected: Steve Shanahan in Peter McGill downtown, Lorraine Pagé in the Sault-au-Récollet district of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Justine McIntyre in Pierrefonds-Roxboro’s Bois-de-Liesse district and Normand Marinacci was elected borough mayor if L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where her party also picked up all four borough council seats. Borough councilors don’t sit on city council, despite potentially bringing some Vrai Changement to Île-Bizard.

Even though Joly finished second for mayor, just a few points ahead of Bergeron and not that far from Coderre, she failed to get a seat on council herself. She ran her colistière in NDG against McQueen, a popular incumbent.

If, instead, she had placed her running mate in Peter McGill, where she has personal political experience (in Shaughnessy Village), she’d have a seat on council today. It’s that kind of decision that led me to believe those (including FTB’s Taylor Noakes) who were and are saying that she had no intention of staying in the municipal arena if she wasn’t elected mayor and would try instead federally with the Liberals (she has worked with Trudeau before).

Melanie Joly
Mélanie Joly (photo by Valeria Bismar)

Now, though, it looks like she wants to stick around, after all. She has pledged to run for the first seat on council that opens up and extended an olive branch to Bergeron a day before he said he was quitting.

Olive branches and parties working together are how good things can actually come out of the current city administration. True, as mayor and through mechanisms like the executive committee, Coderre wields considerable power. It’s also true that Côté councilors will probably vote with their former Union Montreal or establishment colleagues, but they are not obliged to.

The Joly councilors, Joly herself and all the independents and borough-specific candidates are wildcards. If Projet could bring enough of those wildcards into their well-stacked deck and create enough groundswell in the districts represented by Côté candidates, then they may be able to bring about positive change whether Coderre wants it or not.

I’m not saying this will be enough to, say, get rid of P6, but it might. It can’t hurt to try with that or with other issues important to Montrealers like transport or the awarding of city contracts.

I’m hopeful. Mainly because this will require a grassroots approach to politics, rather than a top-down one. And that is the type of political approach where Projet Montreal excels.

The 2013 Montreal municipal election was a sham, plain and simple.

With only 43% of eligible voters casting their ballots, we’ve scarcely improved on our 2009 low of 39% participation. 625 000 eligible voters did not exercise their democratic right to vote in our city’s most important election to date.

Disengagement in 2009 is at least partly to blame for so many crooks and criminals making their way into the halls of power, robbing the taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars, but the apparent anger did not manifest itself in our most cherished democratic tradition; expected ‘high’ voter turnout was but a minuscule bump.

Our city is only just beginning to comprehend the magnitude and implication of multiple generations of outright fraud built directly into the established local and provincial political systems, and yet, in our moment to effect change the people chose not to, by and large. And we wonder why our collective tax revenue doesn’t seem to provide for much…

If the people don’t use the democratic tools they have at their disposal there can be no hope of any positive socio-political or socio-economic change.

What’s worse is that we know low voter turnout plays directly into the strategies of these ‘vedette’ mayoral candidates. Disengagement means they keep their margins small, their favours few.

voter turnout rate montreal

Two key urban demographic groups – students and recent immigrants – are disenfranchised simply because it’s disadvantageous for politicians to involve themselves in the affairs of these groups. The establishment mentality is that this population is ‘transient’ or otherwise impermanent and thus not worthy of any attention. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people here. Do they not have an interest in this city’s future as well?

We also know that a number of boroughs (such as LaSalle, Lachine, Outremont and Anjou) voted for local independent candidates with independent borough parties, signalling a civic disengagement between the residents of these communities and the City of Montreal, an aftereffect of the municipal fusions forced through about a decade ago.

So we’re not entirely to blame for the low turnout.

But we are responsible nonetheless. Denis Coderre was elected by 149 000 people in a city with 1 102 000 registered voters.

This is pathetic.

Best case scenario Denis Coderre’s vast experience as a career politician comes in handy and he manages to keep a lid on things for the next four years. His populist bent may provide for some interesting fireworks if he intends on a values charter showdown with the premier, but of course, that won’t be so much for our benefit as his own. At best, a panis et circenses mayor, at worst, a whole helluvalot of skeletons come dancing on out of the closet.

Montreal Mayoral Candidates

Speaking of using the 2013 Montreal municipal election as a step up the career-ladder…

Melanie Joly, a public relations expert by trade, actually said she feels it’s ‘mission accomplished’ vis-à-vis her mayoral campaign, despite the fact that she came in second, lost her own district and only four of her team-mates got elected to council. By the by, team Vrai changement pour Montréal – Groupe Mélanie Joly is but two seats on council ahead of Équipe Barbe Team – Pro action LaSalle (yes, these are actual party names).

It seems to me the mission that was accomplished was that she managed to use the municipal election to develop political interest in preparation for a run on something else. There’s a provincial election looming on the horizon and a federal one too.

I can appreciate the ruthless brilliance of Ms. Joly’s plan, but I shudder to think of its hollow immorality. Are the citizens nothing but points in a political popularity contest?

We can not afford to go down this path again. How much longer can we survive as a viable city if our engagement remains this low? And what can we do to remedy the situation?

We need mandatory voting in our city before the next municipal election. If the people accomplish anything in the next four years, it will be the insistence that we commit ourselves to our right to vote, intractably.

As we all know mandatory voting is the norm in Australia, a nation not that fundamentally different from our own. There’s no reason to believe mandatory voting would be incompatible with our legal or political systems whatsoever, and the primary benefit outweighs any discomforts such a law might impose.

By ensuring total participation we would, at the very least, ensure that all voices are heard. As I imagine it, required participation would need a more engaged elections board, tasked to reach out to all Montrealers and ensure maximal participation. It would require additional advanced voting, more voting stations and, of course, the ability to abstain from voting on the ballot.

But the bottom line needs to be 100% participation, or as close as we can possibly get to it.

Anything less is playing directly into hands of the establishment, of those who wish to maintain the status quo, and worse, those who have realized the key to getting elected is not to appeal broadly or even have good ideas, but rather, to discourage as many voters as possible from participating.

If this is the direction our democracy is going (and based on provincial and federal numbers, it seems that is), then it simply isn’t a democracy at all.

How long will we wait before we act? And at what point have we gone so far down this road there is simply no turning back?

I’d prefer not to know the answer to that last question…

The results are in. No, not the results that will name the next mayor and city council members Montreal will have for the next four years, those come later tonight.

It’s tradition for the editorial boards of media organisations to endorse a candidate or candidates in elections. This campaign, The Gazette and La Presse endorsed Denis Coderre while Le Devoir, The Link and Le Journal de Montreal came out in favour of Richard Bergeron and Projet Montreal.

Last municipal election, we played the editorial endorsement game. This time, though, we took a broader democratic approach and  let our readers pick for us with a poll in the sidebar of every page of our site.

web poll
Our poll results as of 3pm on November 3

With 163 votes cast a the time this is being written, our readers have endorsed Projet Montreal in the 2013 Montreal Municipal election. The party led by Richard Bergeron got 54% of the vote, followed by Melanie Joly in second place with 18%.

None of the above was third with 9% of the vote, followed by Not Sure Yet and Marcel Côté’s Coalition Montreal, tied with 6% each. There’s An Election? came in fifth with 4%, narrowly edging out Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal, which got only five votes.

It’s interesting to note that in the last two “respected” polls, which came out over three weeks ago and admittedly had a much larger reach than our own, Coderre had a solid lead. It seems that FTB readers are looking for something different in their municipal government.

I’m one of those readers and I voted in our poll (only once, in order to test it, I tried to vote a second time, but it didn’t work, so the numbers are accurate). I, like the majority of those who answered our poll, voted for Projet Montreal and, full disclosure, started volunteering for them in NDG two weeks ago, shortly after making my decision.

Rather than try and figure out why our readers voted the way they did, I’ll tell you how I came to my decision.  Since I voted the same way as the majority of poll respondents, I think it can serve as analysis. These opinions are mine and not necessarily those of everyone involved with FTB or the editorial team. In fact, there are a wide range of opinions in our group.

Our last municipal administration was a disaster and a global embarrassment and not just because our mayor resigned and his replacement was arrested (I honestly needed to use Google to find out the name of our replacement replacement mayor just the other day, I stopped paying attention after Applebaum). I think back to the sudden and unceremonious eviction of Occupons Montreal and then the crackdown on the Maple Spring a year later, including draconian changes to bylaw P6.

I don’t want anyone who was part of that administration back in office. So a good chunk of the candidates running with Corerre and Côté are a no-go for me. Coderre’s personal involvement in the coup in Haiti and his voting with Harper to imprison masked protestors (plus his recent Hasidgate scandal) rule him out as mayor, as does Côté’s politics-as-usual robocall scandal. It seems like our readers agree, as Coderre and Côté finished behind choices that amount to spoiling your ballot.

That leaves Bergeron and Joly. Melanie Joly would be my second choice and she is also the second most popular choice among our readers.

I interviewed her. She is a smart, passionate person who I believe truly does care about her city. I think her nightlife charter is a great idea and one that Projet Montreal would be wise to adopt if they come to power.

While she does support the right to wear a mask at a protest, she agrees with the part of P6 that requires protestors provide a route. Projet, on the other hand, has already tried removing the additions to the bylaw passed during the Maple Spring and originally had tried to scrap P6 entirely. For me, that is a huge plus.

candidates montreal

Joly is not corrupt, though she hasn’t had the chance to be and neither have her team. Projet and Bergeron on the other hand were around during the Tremblay administration and came through the experience skweaky clean with no Projet member as much as mentioned at the Charbonneau commission.

Joly has some big ideas, too, but I like Bergeron’s more. Rapid bus lines wouldn’t work in all the places she is suggesting, whereas a blue line metro extension west and a tramway would, they’re both costed and Bergeron explained to Taylor Noakes how he would push Quebec to make his plans happen.

To be honest, I wouldn’t mind Joly as mayor. If Bergeron wasn’t an option, I’d take her over Coderre any day.

The problem is she’s not running independently for mayor. Instead she’s fronting a party that seems to have been put together overnight. Some of her candidates seem solid, like Sud Ouest borough mayor candidate Cindy Filiatrault. Others less so.

While I don’t have a problem with candidates who used to work in the sex industry, in fact I think transgendered ex-erotic massage therapists running for office is a very good thing, I do have a problem when a candidate is arrested for domestic abuse. Backchecking and a nomination process can avoid problems like that.

Projet, on the other hand, has a solid team, all of them vetted and nominated by members of the party. That’s not to say they’re seasoned politicians, some of them are, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

Projet candidates have roots in their communities which they have big plans for. This is a party of big thinkers who have the means and the will to turn their ideas into reality. People like borough mayor candidates Mike Simkin, Jason Prince and Mary-Ann Davis as well as a slew of other borough mayor, city council and borough council candidates, many of whom we have profiled right here, are why I chose to support PM.

This is not to say that all is perfect. Bergeron has come under fire for comments he made about the anti-police brutality march (which he clarified on FTB) and artists have criticised the Projet team that has run the Plateau for the past four years for excessive fines and restrictions on noise.

While some progressive activists are arguing for spoiled ballots, I think, given the city-wide picture and what’s at stake, it’s best to vote for the party that aspires to make things better in the general sense and has the means and the drive to do it with integrity and transparency and then after they are elected, take advantage of that transparency to hold their feet to the fire.

It seems like those who answered our poll, for the most part, agree with me. Now we can vote (until 8pm) in the only poll that really matters, the election itself.

You can find out where you can vote on the Elections Montreal site

I had a delightful opportunity to meet Cindy Filiatrault recently, Équipe Mélanie Joly’s candidate for borough mayor in the Sud Ouest borough (which, for the uninitiated, includes Saint Henri, Point-St-Charles, Griffintown, Little Burgundy, Ville Émard and Cote-St-Paul). We met up at a crowded café St-Henri, realized there were no seats left as the joint was jam packed with insolent hipsters and then proceeded to walk down a bustling Notre Dame West to the Green Spot Diner.

On our way over, we passed a comic book shop celebrating its one year anniversary and something called the Quebec General Store which seemed to be having a going-out-of-business sale. There were boarded-up storefronts and dive bars next to businesses that are keen to welcome their first clients. Indeed, I couldn’t think of a better place for a stroll.

Notre Dame West is, like many of Montreal’s commercial arteries, a bit hit or miss, though if you continued walking east from where we were (and by that I mean if you cross Atwater) you discover the gentle lapping waves of a different kind of gentrification. For all that the Sud Ouest is, it is a study in contrasts.

Over too many cups of coffee I discovered a borough mayor candidate with some fascinating ideas, but perhaps more importantly, a real sense of attachment and conviction.

What are your plans for the Sud-Ouest?

Oh man, where do I start? Broadly, and I mean this with regards to the whole city, we need to make all pertinent data open to public scrutiny. And I suppose we’d need to hire a few people to compile this data too.

What kind of data are you looking for?

Well, I’d like to know what effect green roof initiatives have on reducing the effects of air pollution, not to mention an air quality break-down by borough too. Add to that list all public contracts so that the public can see where their money is going and how it’s being spent.

Rue_Notre-Dame_Ouest_(Montreal)_22-09-2006
Notre-Dame Ouest in St-Henri (image WikiMedia Commons)

So you don’t just want transparency, but a more engaged and active distribution of information?

Pretty much. Anyone can say they are being transparent, but I want to have free, unencumbered access to everything I need to make an informed decision on how our elected officials are doing. Currently, we’re all in the dark.

But you know, it goes a lot further than that. The city has to actively promote the services and programs it has that aren’t being used. There are myriad programs available to help small entrepreneurs, but it’s very difficult to find the pertinent information. Why?

A lot of these programs aren’t used simply because there’s no one at city hall making it a priority to get the word out. And perhaps the less I say about the city’s website the better.

Some politicians would argue making all information available for public consumption is going to bog down the political process because they’ll wind up having to explain a lot to people who really only want to kvetch about god knows what and will stick to their guns even if it’s apparent the information or data they have has been incorrectly interpreted or understood

So be it. Politicians are there to communicate openly and directly with their citizens. We can’t afford to keep the citizenry in the dark and the paternalist style of governing, the ‘dumbed-down’ approach has got to go.

I think all Montrealers are sick of being talked down to by a lot of rich, crooked, old white men. Besides which, I work in communications, you work in communications, and we both know that complex information can be made simple to understand.

Either way, look at where we’re at right now. Everything happens behind closed doors, the public is kept in the dark, the people have nearly zero faith in their politicians.

If there’s a reason why we’re pulling ahead in the polls, it’s because we’re the antithesis of the old order. We’re young, vibrant, energetic, connected and placing a strong emphasis on using technology – the technology that unites us in nearly all other aspects of our lives – and apply it to increase civic engagement, stimulate transparency and govern based on a real-time assessment of the people’s interests.

filiatraut joly
Cindy Filiatrault campaigning with Melanie Joly (image via Melanie Joly on Twitter)

Tell me something more concrete, more Sud-Ouest focused. What does this borough need to flourish?

Decontamination and revitalization.

Good answer.

Thanks!

Expand on that, please.

Much of this borough was industrial for a hundred years prior to the major phase of deindustrialization that swept through with the closing of the Lachine Canal. As a result, factories closed, but what they left behind is still in the ground.

As a post-industrial city, we need to keep track of what pollutants are where and in what quantities. We also need a plan to decontaminate the ground to ensure the health of our community.

Much of the borough is built on former industrial land and wedged between what was once an industrial canal on the southern edge and one of the busiest highways in Canada on the northern edge. Is it any wonder life-long residents of the borough have higher respiratory ailments?

Tell me something I don’t know about your borough.

You know Dave McMillan?

Not personally, but he owns Liverpool House and Joe Beef, right?

Right. In the winter he clears the snow from the alleyway behind his restaurants. He clears it by hand because the city doesn’t. And you know what he finds with nearly every shovelful of snow? Needles. That alleyway is littered with them but it’s thanks to Dave McMillan they get cleaned up.

That’s really gross. There’s a park just on the other side of that alleyway and a library and a community centre too

Exactly my point. On Notre-Dame it’s all fixed up, gentrified, you’d never expect that just on the other side is the borough’s reality of poverty and social pathologies related to mental health problems, drug addiction etc. Drug addicts shouldn’t be anywhere near areas used by families and children, even if it is an alleyway.

So what do we do with potentially homeless intravenous drug addicts in the Sud-Ouest?

We need a safe injection site in the borough and I’d push for it. How are drug addicts ever going to overcome their addictions if they’re forced out of sight into the nooks and crannies of the city?

These are people too. They should have a place to go where they can shoot up with clean needles, with supervision and access to help if they want it.

It’ll make our streets safer and we won’t have to worry about kids accidentally sticking themselves with dirty needles on the way to a baseball diamond or the local library. It’s a matter of basic respect for your fellow human beings. Frankly, I’m surprised we don’t already have one here.

Where would you bring tourists to give them a taste of this large, diverse borough?

I’d bring them for a walk along Notre-Dame, so they could see our past, present and future.

You’ve seen the signs up all over town. You’ve read the candidate profiles on FTB and followed the coverage elsewhere. You’ve seen the polls and hopefully voted in the poll we have in our sidebar (if you haven’t there’s still time).

Now, CBC and McGill University have hosted an English language debate with all the major party leaders. If you don’t know how you’re going to vote or you’re backing a candidate and want to see them shine, it’s worth watching. It runs about an hour.

What did you think of the debate? Who won? Did it change your opinion?

Mélanie Joly is the newest face on the Montreal political landscape. Rather than join up with an existing party and start her political career running for a city council position, the 34 year old lawyer, PR professional, former Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Fondation du CHUM and Fondation de l’ITHQ board member and founder of several political think tanks in Shaughnessy Village is running for our top municipal job, Mayor of Montreal.

“I was profoundly frustrated with what was going on in Montreal,” Joly explained, “I think that in order to make sure that you really offer change, you have to be coherent, you have to start from scratch. So we thought let’s develop an entirely new program with an entirely new team. We’re a political startup.”

Her team, Le vrai changement pour Montréal – Groupe Mélanie Joly, currently consists of 46 candidates, most of them in the 25-40 age range. With 103 seats up for grabs in the municipal election, Joly is “very open” to working with people in other parties if she wins, regardless of what party they come from.

“I don’t have a preference,” she said, “what’s most important is that people are competent, people walk the talk and people have integrity.”

Melanie Joly speechWe were speaking before Joly took the stage as an invited guest at les Jeudis d’Apollo, a monthly series showcasing Montreal’s artistic talent alongside people behind some of the city’s newest startups. An appropriate venue given how Joly sees her new party but also her love of Montreal’s nightlife.

In order to prevent Montreal from becoming “another suburb” she is proposing that we create a nightlife charter. In fact, it’s one of the key points of her platform. Basically, bar and restaurant owners would enter into a pact with residents “to make sure that everybody is happy and that there’s a good balance between interests.”

She wants to use this approach in all parts of the city, not just the areas that already have a vibrant nightlife. She cited the emerging Notre Dame Street bar scene in the Sud Ouest borough and all the new restaurants that opened up on Fleury Street in Ahunsic over the past decade as examples of where such a charter could be effective.

“It’s really important to understand the realities in different neighbourhoods,” she added, “I don’t think that it’s the same solution throughout Montreal. I think you must adapt to every neighbourhood, to every borough.”

While Montreal may be famous for its nightlife, it’s also well known for its activism. One of the most contentious things the current city council did was pass amendments to Municipal Bylaw P6 banning masks at protests and requiring protesters to provide a route which needs to be approved by the police, otherwise the protest could be declared illegal.

After mass kettling this past winter, people started calling for the changes to be repealed. There was a vote, with then interim mayor Michael Applebaum arguing for the bylaw to remain intact and Projet Montreal trying to remove the changes completely. Applebaum’s side won, barely.

Joly agrees with P6 critics that there should be no legal restrictions on wearing a mask at a protest. She also feels that the SPVM has too much discretion when it comes to applying P6. But she also thinks that any group seeking to demonstrate in Montreal should provide their route.

“For us, it’s fundamental, it’s a question of balance of rights between people using public space and also demonstrators,” Joly stated, “I really believe we need to find a practical solution where people can express themselves and that we protect freedom of expression but at the same time that we are able to really make sure that there’s good planning in terms of resources on the part of the city when the demonstrators are demonstrating.”

But who should get to approve the routes, the police or another body? Joly feels there is a need for clarity.

“We need to make sure that there’s a policy that really is clear in terms of what can be done,” she said, “right now there’s too much discretion. We must make sure that the new generation of Montrealers respect the work done by police officers and if there’s too much discretion given to them and too much arbitrariness, that won’t help and they won’t necessarily want to respect an authority that has too much power over them. It’s a fine line but we must make sure that the rights are being well balanced.”

It seems balance is important for Joly, whether it has to do with protests or nightlife. Will Montreal’s electorate balance in her favour? We’ll all find out on the third of November.

* Photos by Valeria Bismar