Montreal election candidates – The democratic deficit in the Ville Marie Borough, social housing, green space, the participation of the residents in the debate on policies that affect their neighbourhood, public transportation, and better facilities for pedestrians. These were some of the most important issues discussed by the five Montreal election candidates to represent the Peter McGill district in the next municipal election on November 5.
Incumbent councillor Steve Shanahan (Vrai changement pour Montréal), and challengers Jabiz Sharifian (Projet Montréal), Cathy Wong (Équipe Denis Coderre), John Symon (Coalition Montréal), and Liyousa Kilani (Independent) had a debate this past Wednesday at the re-christened St. Jax Church (formerly known as St. James the Apostle Church). Conducted in a very civil way, the five candidates exposed both, some general points their platforms contain regarding the city as a whole, as well as items that address specific concerns of the district such as social housing, the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, and infrastructure issues.
The Peter McGill Community Council which organized the event had already handed over to the candidates some questions proposed by their members, addressing the most pressing issues. The candidates had answered those questions, and at the time of the debate, the public had the opportunity to go more in-depth on those problems or add new items to the discussion.
In the answers they have given in writing, four of the five candidates expressed their support for changing the current law that in fact places the Ville Marie Borough in a sort of trusteeship. This is the only borough that doesn’t elect its own mayor since whoever wins the city mayoralty also becomes the mayor of Ville Marie. To make things even worse, the mayor also has the power to appoint two other councillors from other boroughs as members of the Ville Marie council, a move that only serves the purpose of assuring the mayor a majority.
On this issue, the only dissenting voice was that of the candidate representing the Coderre Team, Cathy Wong. In her answer, she wrote: “The active participation of the Mayor of the City of Montreal in decisions affecting downtown supports a territorial cohesion and allows the Ville Marie borough to play a primary role in the direction of the city, all while protecting the identity and history of the Ville Marie borough.” During question period she was then asked to admit that on this she supports the status quo. By contrast, Jabiz Sharifian indicated in her written response that “Projet Montréal commits to making presentations to Quebec City in order to reverse the trusteeship of the borough which deprives its citizens of true democratic representation.”
The abolition of the right to hold a referendum on some controversial projects also marked a difference between Ms. Wong who said that “referendums are often polarized and divide citizens, rather than bring them toward a collective consensus. Think about, for example, referendums that ban places of worship. The referendum divided citizens rather than united them to develop a communal vision” and the other candidates. Steve Shanahan answered very emphatically: “I support bringing the referendum tool back as it was.” John Symon answered in similar terms: “The right to referendums should be fully restored.”
Public transportation and homelessness in the downtown area were also topics that interested the audience. The controversial REM project is supported by the Coderre Team and by Projet Montréal, although with some conditions, while on this issue independent candidate Liyouse Kilani is more skeptic: “is not a wise idea” she wrote. For Symon however it is an absolute no-no: “the REM is outrageously expensive among other problems, and many, much more practical improvements to public transit are possible. The Coalition proposes the Ligne du savoir blue line extension.”
The issue of more space for pedestrians and cyclists got the more general agreement, Ms. Kilani, however, wants Sainte Catherine entirely converted into a pedestrian street, but Shanahan prefers that major street to “be flexible and adjustable to dynamic needs.”
Attendance to the debate was not too numerous, but at least it showed an interest on the part of residents in an area that in recent years have been affected by many changes while there is an increasing perception that the residents of downtown have been neglected for too long. That’s why it is crucial that on November 5 voters in this district go to the polls (in the last election the turnout was too small), after all, it is their opportunity to make their voices heard and perhaps, change things for the better.
Feature Image: Candidates to represent the Peter McGill district at City Hall during the debate at the St. Jax Church – From left to right: Liyousa Kilani (independent), Steve Shanahan (Vrai changement pour Montréal), Jabiz Sharifian (Projet Montréal), Cathy Wong (Coderre Team), and John Symon (Coalition Montréal)
By: Sergio Martinez – mtltimes.ca