Say what you will about Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante’s first eight months in office, when it comes to animals, her Projet Montréal administration has been doing exactly what they said they would. Even her staunchest opponents can’t argue that fact.

Soon after taking office, they scrapped former mayor Denis Coderre’s much-maligned pit bull ban and promised a new, thorough animal control bylaw based on research. This past Thursday, they delivered.

Here are some of the highlights of the proposed plan, already approved by Montreal’s Executive Committee and up for vote by the full City Council tomorrow:

Calèche Ban

Montreal has issued 24 permits for horse-drawn Calèches to operate this year and in 2019, but won’t be issuing any more. As of 2020, horses pulling tourists through the streets of Old Montreal in the hot sun will be a thing of the past.

This follows several videos in recent years of horses collapsing on the “job” as well as years of opposition to the practice from Plante’s party and over a century’s worth from the Montreal SPCA. The plan also involves:

  • A move towards electric-powered calèches
  • Funding renovations of the Griffintown Horse Palace and converting it into a museum and potential living space for horses (something started under Coderre)
  • Finding new homes for the horses currently being used, which counters the calèche industry’s claim that the horses will have to be slaughtered

Rescue Not Breeders

As of July 2019, pet stores in Montreal will only be permitted to sell dogs, cats and rabbits that come from animal shelters, not from breeders. This is certainly a bold move that will prompt resistance, mostly from pet stores, but the Plante Administration is surely prepared for that.

What’s really fascinating and encouraging here, though, is that Montreal is effectively turning adopting a rescue pet from an ethical choice many currently make into the most standard and efficient way to bring an animal home in the city.

It’s the Owner, Not the Breed

While Coderre’s Pit Bull Ban is now a thing of the past, the Plante Administration hasn’t forgotten about what prompted it in the first place: a woman who died because a dog attacked her. The new bylaw deals with dangerous dogs by focusing on specific dogs that are violent and their owners, not with blanket targeting of entire breeds.

Under the new plan, if a dog bites a human, the dog’s owner is required to report it within 72 hours and muzzle the dog when outside until experts trained by the city do their job. These inspectors will classify the dog as either normal, potentially dangerous or dangerous and determine what restrictions, if any, need to be applied. The owner pays for the evaluation.

This is clearly one area where Montreal’s new administration is sticking to their promises while backing them up with logic and research.

* Featured image by Jean Gagnon via WikiMedia Commons

Wow, they’re actually admitting it. On-again/off-again Bloc Leader and die-hard soverignist Gilles Duceppe endorsed Denis Coderre, a staunch Liberal and federalist, in his bid for re-election as Mayor of Montreal.

During the last Montreal Municipal Election campaign in 2013, there were rumors that supporters of the Liberals (both provincial and federal), the Bloc Québécois (BQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) were secretly pushing Melanie Joly’s candidacy for Mayor, not in hopes that she would win, but that she would split the anti-establishment vote and prevent a Projet Montréal victory. Whether there was involvement from those forces or not, that’s exactly what happened: Coderre won and Joly was off to greener pastures in Ottawa.

But why would these seemingly divergent groups have a common goal? The argument goes that establishment parties would do anything to stop anyone loosely aligned, even in terms of who supports them, with parties like the Federal NDP or Québec Solidaire (QS) provincially.

While that may seem like pie in the sky conspiracy stuff, Gilles Duceppe just endorsed Denis Coderre and he said why. Mixed in with reasons/excuses like how he feels the Pink line is unrealistic and there are a couple of soverignist candidates on Equipe Coderre, Duceppe said that Plante and Projet were “too close to QS and the NDP.”

For decades, both the federalist provincial and federal Libs and the sovereignist PQ and BQ thrived on everyone being focused on the National Question and the division it brings instead of more pressing issues like the corporate dominance, austerity and, more locally, transit. Now that their dominance is threatened at the municipal level by an arguably leftist party with a dynamic leader who is concerned with making life in Montreal better above all, they are scared.

Moreover, they are getting desperate. Desperate enough, apparently, to get in bed together publicly.

Earlier this week, establishment press tried to make a big deal out of Projet Leader Valérie Plante not answering a question about how she voted in the 1995 referendum, a smart move considering this election is about Montreal, not the specter of sovereignty and both sovereignists and federalists can be found in both main parties running. I wonder if they will give equal play to Coderre getting an endorsement from a prominent sovereignist like Duceppe.

Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Gilles Duceppe endorsed Denis Coderre. The other shoe has dropped.

This election is about the staus quo versus a new way of doing things and it only took the Liberals and the Bloc to make that crystal clear.

I can’t really say I’m surprised. After all, it’s clear that Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre doesn’t like being challenged.

In fall 2016, when the debate over the mayor’s pit bull ban was raging, citizens came to City Hall to express their displeasure during the part of council meetings reserved for public interventions and questions. Roughly a minute into Montreal resident Kim Doucet’s preamble, Coderre simply and quite clearly said “Cut the Mic!”

Fast forward a year and Coderre finds himself neck and neck in the polls with Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante, who was largely unknown outside of political circles just a few months ago. This, apparently, has our mayor on the defensive and back to his old trick of cutting off opposition.

According to Radio-Canada, Coderre has declined participating in at least four debates, all of which Plante has accepted invitations to:

Now as you can see, we’re not talking smaller organizations or even media known for bias. These are mainstream TV and radio debates and ones hosted by prominent organizations.

Coderre did agree to debate Plante twice, once in French and once in English. Given the fact that the linguistic makeup of this city pretty much requires that if a candidate does one language they have to do the other, this is akin to agreeing to only one debate pretty much anywhere else.

The French debate has already been set for October 19th at Centre Shearaton hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and moderated by François Cardinal of La Presse. The English debate will be hosted by either CTV, The Gazette or CJAD.

It’s interesting to note that even though the host of the English debate has not been confirmed, Coderre has already ruled out both CBC TV and radio. So he’s not just trying to limit the number of debates, he’s being rather picky.

According to Marc-André Gosselin, Coderre’s press attaché, the mayor wants one “grand debate” in French and English and “for the rest” they are focusing on the campaign trail. It makes me wonder how debates are not, according to the Coderre campaign, an integral part of the campaign trail, but rather something else entirely, something to be avoided as much as possible.

I wonder what Coderre is so afraid of? Why is the man who loves the spotlight trying to limit his time in it?

The cynical political side of me says that the mayor and his team feel that if too many people see an alternative to his administration in the form of Plante, the vote might increase and he may be out of a job. However, I think this one is more a matter of personality and ego than one of strategy.

While he may have taken part in a number of debates before becoming mayor, since he got the job he has demonstrated hostility towards those who would challenge him. So far this has been limited to citizens and media, but Plante is someone he can’t just walk away from. This is one woman he can’t simply have his employees cut the mic on when he doesn’t like what she is saying.

It’s really no surprise that Denis “Cut the mic!” Coderre is trying to avoid debating someone who disagrees with him as much as possible.

The City of Montreal is a mess and it’s time for change. The municipal elections are this November and candidates are clamoring to show that they are most qualified to fix our construction problems, frivolous expenditures and lack of accountability. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to take an interest in municipal politics, and it’s easy to see why.

Federal and Provincial politics deal with sexy issues like healthcare, education, Native rights, law enforcement and treaties. Municipal politics deals with dogs and decorations and infrastructure. They’re not sexy but they are important, so this article will give you a crash course on Montreal’s upcoming elections and some of the issues at hand.

First, let’s talk about dogs.

In June 2016 a dog mauled a Pointe-Aux-Trembles woman to death. In response, City Hall under current mayor Denis Coderre introduced a bylaw requiring that dogs be muzzled in public, banning pitbulls and other “dangerous breeds”.

The rules were met with outrage from everyone, arguing that the law created arbitrary rules in an attempt to prevent something that’s impossible to predict. It pushes the notion that certain breeds are more prone to violence than others and has forced many dog owners to consider leaving the city rather than getting rid of their beloved pets in order to conform to the bylaw. Despite the outrage, the bylaw stands.

Projet Montreal led by Valérie Plante is by far Coderre’s greatest competition, and they have a few things to say about the current mayor.

The party’s website says:

“Like you, we care for the safety of all. And like you, we also know that policies based on a dog’s breed or appearance (BSL) are ineffective in protecting the public.”

Rather than banning some breeds, their focus is on responsible pet ownership including providing financial incentives for pet sterilization, and better control of the sales and life conditions of pets. It’s clear that should Projet win the election one of their first orders of business will be abolishing the pitbull ban.

Now let’s talk about expenditures.

This year is Montreal’s 375th anniversary and we should be celebrating, but how much celebrating is too much?

Anyone who plans a party knows that one must work within a budget, especially if the money is not yours.

In honor of the City’s anniversary, Coderre spent $39.5 million to light up the Jacques Cartier Bridge with LED lights. Coderre also took the liberty of spending $3.45 million on granite tree stumps on Mount Royal, which strike many as not only frivolous, but impractical. As Sue Montgomery, Projet Montréal’s candidate for borough mayor of CDN/NDG recently mentioned, the design of the stumps doesn’t even allow people to sit on them, as they’re slanted in such a way people and objects slide right off (unlike actual tree stumps).

Where did the money for these things come from?

It came from the taxpayers, which means that we’re footing the bill. Was there public consultation about this? Did the mayor seek our consent before using our money to buy these things?

Not really.

One of Projet Montreal’s big platforms this election is that of accountability. They want the city’s leadership to answer to citizens the way they’re supposed to.

Coderre’s goal for all these projects was to put Montreal on the map, but as many of Coderre’s critics have pointed out, the city was already on the map. We have the Jazz Festival, the Just for Laughs festival, Francopholies, Nuits d’Afrique, Carifest, the fireworks competition and tons of other annual events that draw thousands of tourists every year. Most of us agree that the money spent on cosmetic additions was a waste. That money could have been better spent fixing a Montreal problem so great it’s become a joke:

The problem I’m talking about is municipal construction.

Projet Montreal calls the problem “Kône-o-Rama” and vows to “end bad traffic management by creating a traffic authority, ready to intervene to eliminate obstacles on roads, sidewalks and bike paths.”

The problem, however, is much more than that.

Construction projects, while often necessary, are poorly managed. Highway exits are closed, but the signs indicating as much are often placed too close to the site of the work, leaving motorists struggling to find alternate access points to their destinations, creating delays.

Where sidewalks are closed for construction, workers seldom indicate alternate footpaths for pedestrians, something that especially puts the city’s disabled, elderly, and people with babies at risk. Where businesses are blocked off due to holes in the street, the best construction workers offer is a wobbly and unsafe ramp to get to the door. Not to mention the noise, the dust, and the lack of proper safety barriers.

It has become such a joke in this town that souvenir shops now offer ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the shape of traffic cones with the city’s name on them.

Coderre has been conspicuously silent about all of this, while Projet Montreal is demanding remedies as part of their accountability and accessibility platforms. They want to see coordination between the construction projects to make sure cyclists and pedestrians are kept safe and the city is accessible for everyone.

Projet Montreal is not the only party to challenge the current administration.

Other parties include Vrai Changement, pushing leader Justine McIntyre for mayor of the Pierrefonds-Roxboro Borough. Vrai Changement is running on a platform of economic development, less dependence on motor vehicles, and improving public transportation. Unfortunately, the party focus seems primarily on the Pierrefonds-Roxboro and Lachine boroughs and not on the city’s overall well-being.

Coalition Montreal has candidates running mostly in the Côte des Neiges and NDG borough. They are pushing Zaki Ghavitian for Borough Mayor and hoping leader Marvin Rotrand, former vice-chair of the STM currently on the city council, retains his council seat representing Snowdon. Whether they present a candidate for JMayor of Montreal remains to be seen.

More than any other election, the municipal one is the one most likely to affect our daily lives. Stay informed and when the time comes, VOTE.

After years of tax exemptions, the religious communities in the City of Montreal are facing big tax bills. It has recently come to light that once exempt institutions like the Cote des Neiges Presbyterian Church are receiving tax bills from the City. Inspectors from the City of Montreal are now visiting churches more regularly, taking pictures and noting how every space in the church is used.

Municipal property inspections are nothing new. It’s how the City of Montreal assesses how to tax you and for how much. Religious institutions, however, are the exception.

According to the Quebec Act Respecting Municipal Taxation, a property “in the name of a religious institution… used by it or gratuitously by another religious institution… not to derive income but in the immediate pursuit of the religious or charitable objects” is exempt from all municipal or school property taxes. That means that as long as a given space is owned by a religious institution and is used exclusively for worship or other religious ends, it is considered to be exempt from property taxes.

The problem is that many religious institutions in Montreal don’t use their property exclusively for worship, hosting vital community organizations in available spaces within their buildings. The tax bills and increased inspections likely mean that the City is interpreting the law more strictly so that they can tax houses of worship for the spaces they don’t use for religious services and prayer.

The City of Montreal claims that they are simply trying to prevent people from defrauding the system, but not everyone agrees.

M, an expert on municipal assessments and taxation, said that they’re doing it because it will result in tax revenue from sources that weren’t providing any tax revenue before.

I asked M what the municipal assessors would be looking for when deciding how much to tax a religious institution.

“Proof that there are parts of a church that aren’t being used for worship,” he replied.

A room used for worship is tax exempt, a room used for anything else would hypothetically be subject to taxation.
I asked M if the City could tax some parts of a house of worship while exempting other parts of the same building from taxation.

“They can split the assessment, and they do. I’ve seen it before. They can send a bill that indicates the taxable portion and the non-taxable portion,” he said.

That begs the question as to whether facilities that while not used exclusively for worship, would be considered an essential part of any building, let alone a church. Though people rarely worship while on the toilet, for example, it should be considered an essential part of any space’s facilities and subject to any exemptions tied to a given space.

Though some have praised the City’s move to start taxing religious institutions as an assertion of the separation of church and state and a break for taxpayers, there is reason to believe the move will come at the expense of community organizations.

NDG City Councilor Peter McQueen points out that important community groups in NDG such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, as well as the NDG Food Depot and the NDG Community Council rely on the City’s churches to provide spaces for them to meet. He explained that this is because historically the churches were involved in charity work separate from the state.

I asked McQueen how he felt these groups would be affected by the new taxation rules.

“Terrible! I mean, if these groups had to leave the churches they’d be in a major quandary here in NDG.”

He said that if these groups had to find other places to meet, the City would have to step up and meet the demand. Currently in Cote des Neiges and NDG most community spaces are used for sports or borough offices. Houses of worship have until now been filling the need for spaces for these community groups to meet, but that may change with the new taxation rules.

At the end of the day, the issue comes down to one of money.

Will this move by the City of Montreal make the City more money, or cost it money in the long run?

Peter McQueen thinks it will end up costing the City, as it will have to step up to meet the demand for community meeting spaces that had previously been filled by the churches.

M thinks the City may choose to simply not fill that need, which would come at the expense of the community that relies on these groups to help the needy and provide safe activities for their children.

There is the additional risk that some congregations may fold altogether under the new taxation rules, as their dwindling flocks and basic expenses put houses of worship in the red before they ever see a tax bill. They can always contest the tax assessments in court, and there will likely be legal challenges if there are enough tax dollars involved.

At the end of the day, it will be the community that pays for this.

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.