Anti-corruption force asked to investigate Projet Montréal, PMV organization
By René Bruemmer,
Published in The Gazette
Montreal’s anti-corruption police force, EPIM, has been asked to investigate Projet Montréal and a Plateau-Mont-Royal citizens’ group with close links to the municipal party over accusations of misuse of public funds.
A letter filed with the police squad Aug. 30 alleges “several facts and actions committed over the last two years by the members of Projet Montréal … and administrators of the organization Plateau Milieu de Vie, suggest the misappropriation and diversion of public funds.
“More precisely, two times, Projet Montréal was found to contribute funds to an organization that it created and that it controls entirely. … We can speak of a conflict of interest and a lack of ethics.”
In keeping with protocol, the Escouade de protection de l’intégrité municipal, whose mandate is to ensure integrity within Montreal’s city hall, would not say whether it plans to investigate the accusations.
But the complaint filed anonymously by a resident brings to light details about the non-profit Plateau Milieu de Vie (PMV) organization created by borough residents and members of Projet Montréal in 2010. Its mandate was to create a blog to counter a storm of negative publicity over the party’s parking regulations, but critics have called it the extremist faction of the left-wing party.
Some party members say they were uncomfortable with the concept from the start, and advised against its creation. They say they became even more concerned when the group, perceived by some as a political wing of the party, received funding approved by Projet Montréal to build a permanent kiosk for a produce market run by local volunteers.
Projet Montréal officials and members of PMV, however, say the organization’s only connection to Projet Montréal is a common wish for less traffic and more fresh vegetables. The group notes it is a vocal opponent of many Projet initiatives.
Plateau Mont-Royal mayor Luc Ferrandez has categorized the allegations as “pure invention” and attempts by his adversaries to politicize “the sale of tomatoes and cucumbers.”
The complaint’s author said he wishes to withhold his identity for fear of reprisal. He is affiliated with a merchants association in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, but says the complaint was his idea alone. A copy of his letter was obtained by the The Gazette.
On May 7, 2012, the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough council, composed entirely of Projet Montréal members, approved the allocation of $31,792 in borough funds to Plateau Milieu de Vie to oversee the design and construction of a kiosk to be used for a Sunday farmer’s market that would remain property of the borough. On April 8, 2013, council approved another $4,800 to buy produce for the market.
Plateau Milieu de Vie is a self-described citizens’ lobby group. Its website and Facebook site do not indicate any affiliation with Projet Montréal.
Its registration as a non-profit organization with Quebec’s business registry, however, shows the majority of those listed as former or current administrators of Plateau Milieu de Vie are members and former candidates of Projet Montréal. They include Michel Camus, president of Projet Montréal, who is listed as administrator, secretary and treasurer; Pierre Dodin, listed as president of the organization, who was the coordinator of the Plateau-Mont-Royal association for Projet Montréal; Projet Montréal member Linda Vallée, listed as an administrator; and Nicholas Marchildon, who ran as Projet Montréal’s candidate for the St-Léonard mayoralty in 2009, also listed as an administrator.
Carl Boileau, a former Plateau-Mont-Royal councillor with Projet Montréal and a founding member of the party, said PMV was conceived to counter virulent bad press the party was receiving about its plans to increase parking fees and the number of metered parking spaces in the borough.
Tensions were running so high at one point there was a physical altercation at city hall between a merchants’ association president and Linda Vallée, while mayor Ferrandez screamed “Liar!” in the background.
Boileau said he was among members of the party who suggested the creation of PMV to fight back against the concerted efforts of well-funded merchants associations that were plastering stores with posters denigrating Ferrandez and Projet Montréal.
“As an administration, it was difficult to respond directly to the negative publicity campaign,” Boileau said. “There was a group of citizens who wanted to do more action and less politics, a group who could defend us in the debate.”
Boileau said he didn’t see anything wrong with creating a citizen’s group founded mostly by Projet Montréal members “because it allowed those with slightly more radical positions to share their views. It would help to even out the debate.”
He started to become concerned, he said, when the party started transferring funds to the organization, which he perceived as a subsidy from the party cabinet to one of its own entities.
Boileau voted in favour of funding the kiosk both as a Projet Montréal councillor and as an independent. Boileau left Projet Montréal to sit as an independent in October 2012, saying the party under Ferrandez had become undemocratic. He is now a member of the Coalition Montreal — Marcel Côté party.
Members of Projet Montréal say Boileau left after they told him they wouldn’t use him as a candidate in the 2013 elections because he wasn’t a strong councillor.
PMV came to life in November 2010 mainly as a blog defending Projet Montréal’s traffic-calming measures. It described itself as a citizens’ group created with the goal of promoting neighbourly relations and constructive debates on improving quality of life in the borough. Initial blog posts were devoted to rebutting bad press about traffic-calming measures in the neighbourhood.
A posting on the group’s Facebook page about a Mont-Royal Ave. sausage shop owner advising employees not to serve Projet councillors quickly produced a campaign to boycott the establishment.
“The merchants referred to Plateau Milieu de Vie as the armed faction of Projet Montréal,” Boileau said. “Armed faction is a bit strong, but it’s the most radical members — we know what happened for a certain sausage vendor that said don’t vote for Ferrandez — it went viral on social media.”
But PMV’s blog and Facebook page targeted other issues, like noise pollution and the rogue dumping of garbage in the borough. The group’s members also publicly disagreed with Projet decisions, such as the closing of a local indoor swimming pool.
By 2011, the group’s focus turned toward creating the first volunteer-run farmers’ market in the city.
“It’s not a political arm of Projet Montréal,” said PMV founder Vallée, who said she didn’t even vote for Ferrandez in 2009. “The idea was to (raise awareness) so citizens would get priority in the borough, instead of cars and stores.”
The money for the kiosk, she noted, was approved by civil servants with the borough’s department of culture, parks and recreation, and supplemented to the tune of $14,000 by Communauto and a local bank.
“We have our own charter at Plateau Milieu de Vie and it goes even farther than what Ferrandez has put on the table. He has said we are very critical of his organization and he is right.”
Christine Gosselin, former chief of staff for the Plateau branch of Projet Montréal and now running as a candidate, said she can see how people could get the impression PMV was a political arm given its founding members,
“It’s sure they are engaged citizens that support in a very vigorous way the politics of Projet Montréal, but that’s only because they share the same philosophies,” she said, adding that engaged citizens are a limited resource in most communities.
As for the demand that Montreal’s anti-corruption police begin an investigation: “Since there was nothing illegal done, I don’t think anyone has any fear of the outcome of an investigation by police,” Gosselin said. “Everything was done legitimately, so bring it on, because it’s all kosher.”
Projet Montréal issued a statement Friday afternoon denying the complaint’s allegations the party was using public funds for partisan uses.
“Let me be clear: the 20 citizens who run the market do so for free and do not get any benefits from its exploitation,” Ferrandez said.