I sat down recently with long-time Montreal city councillor Marvin Rotrand to discuss Snowdon, Cote des Neiges, public transit and a lifetime of experience in Montreal municipal politics. He is the first candidate from the Marcel Coté coalition to agree to an interview with Forget the Box.
Describe your district and career in local politics for me
Well, once again I’m running to represent the fine people of Snowdon as a city councillor, something I’ve been doing more or less constantly since I first became a local representative back in 1982. Back then I came in with the (Jean) Doré camp, the Montreal Citizens Movement, and we were looking to bring new ideas to city hall, which had grown stale and corrupt under Jean Drapeau.
I’ve enjoyed the job ever since and the people seem to like me as their councillor too. In 1988 I had a falling out with the MCM and sat as an independent, and then was briefly involved in the ‘democratic coalition’ back in the 1990s, but that fizzled after a few years. I’m also the Vice Chair of the STM.
As to Snowdon and Cote des Neiges, a few bits of important data all Montrealers should know about. We’re one of the most multi-lingual, cosmopolitan communities in all of Canada, perhaps North America, highly integrated – there are no ghettoes here.
This is a special place, largely where people get their first experience with Canada, Québec and Montreal, so it’s important that we shine as an example. There are at least 125 different ethnic groups and over 100 different languages spoken here, and you’ll find every corner of the globe represented here.
We have had a significant Jewish presence since the end of the Second World War, but whereas that Jewish population, my parent’s generation, were Eastern and Central European Holocaust survivors, today’s Jewish community in Snowdon and CDN is predominantly from the Orthodox Lubavitch sect.
We still have a sizeable West Indian community, but they’re older and less evident now. The demographic trend has seen the former generations of Jews and West Indian blacks move out to the West island. In their place came a massive influx of Filipinos, who in turn are now moving West as they rise up the socio-economic ladder. And in their place have come new waves of immigrants, be they Bangladeshi, Pakistani, West African – you name it.
What do you hope to accomplish for the residents of your district?
I want to continue what we’ve been working on for years, namely trying to make Cote des Neiges on the whole a pleasant, attractive and welcoming place to live. Our green spaces are top-notch; new chalets have been built in the parks and we’ve installed new equipment throughout (benches, water-games, trash cans, lighting, etc.).
We’ve placed a focus on park development because access to green space is crucial for our residents, especially recent arrivals. Every year our parks become home to many festivals, and the availability of large, well-maintained green spaces can do quite a bit to raise the average standard of living for all CDN residents.
In our borough, we have many socio-demographic extremes, good green spaces can help put people on a more equal footing – we all share these spaces after all.
We also have new housing initiatives in mind. For one, the ‘Triangle’ (Author’s Note: a poorly planned hodge-podge of light industrial space, mid-size apartment buildings and parking lots bounded by Décarie, De la Savanne and Jean-Talon) is set to get some 3500 new housing units, of which 15% will be used for social housing. There’s also the possibility of eventually transforming the former Blue Bonnets raceway into a large ‘urban village’ for 25 000 people to reduce sprawl.
We need more Montrealers who actually live in the city limits of Montreal, paying taxes to City Hall. The more the merrier, and this all means more money for important social programs, everything from public transit to parks and community centres.
Developing new housing solutions for families is particularly important, as families are economic agents in their own right – owning property, paying taxes, starting small businesses, and working for the betterment of communities. We can’t afford to lose any more families to off-island suburbs.
Why are we expanding the Métro in such a piecemeal fashion?
I wouldn’t characterize it that way, but I’ll tell you this – the Métro is financed by the province, 100%. The STM operates the Métro, the AMT plans Métro expansions. The AMT is a provincial body and the province makes the call as to when and if the Métro gets expanded. This is how it’s always been, for better or for worse.
It’s obvious we’d all like a Métro that goes everywhere, runs all day long, never breaks down and costs nothing to use, but we need to be far more realistic and look at the bigger transit picture. The point is simply this – we need to give as many Montrealers as possible a cheap and efficient means of getting around the city without requiring the use of their cars. That’s it. We need something affordable and doable. Métro extensions take forever to plan and execute, but as I said, that’s a provincial problem we unfortunately have to deal with.
In the meantime, we need solutions. I think the widespread implementation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes and reserved lanes is probably the best way forward right now. It’s comparatively cheap given that we’re not really inventing anything new or digging subterranean tunnels, we’re just re-designing roadways and developing new routes and possibly re-purposing high-capacity buses for those routes. Much cheaper than $300 million per kilometre I can assure you.
And best of all, because the BRT system would fall within the city borders, we can plan and execute this project ourselves. We’re looking to implement some 370 km of reserved bus lanes, add 150 more articulated buses to the 200 we already have and bring the total number of buses up to 2000 from the current 1600.
What do you think of the Blue Line extension project?
It’s out of our hands, I hope the government actually accomplishes this project and the population density of St-Leonard and Anjou demand it, though I wouldn’t suggest a terminus anywhere near the Galleries d’Anjou shopping mall. Shopping malls shouldn’t double as public transit connections, especially not in the suburbs.
This is why I can’t comprehend Projet Montréal’s interest in light rail over the Champlain Bridge to the Dix-30 shopping centre in Brossard. We want people to buy locally, not make it easier for them to get to a Best Buy or Walmart. It’s companies like those that are killing our major commercial arteries here in the city.