CSU Co-Hosts Plateau Candidates’ Debate
By Jonathan Summers
Published in thelinknewspaper.ca
Candidates in Montreal’s Plateau-Mont-Royal borough for the four major parties running in the Nov. 3 municipal election went head-to-head in a debate in the Hall Building’s D.B. Clarke Theatre on Oct. 24.
The debate featured sitting borough mayor Luc Ferrandez of Projet Montréal; Piper Huggins, a candidate for the Jeanne-Mance district’s city councillor seat with Coalition Montréal; Eleni Fakotakis, a candidate for the Jeanne-Mance district’s city councillor seat with Équipe Denis Coderre; and David Côté, a candidate for the Mile End district’s borough councillor seat with Le Vrai changement pour Montréal.
“Given that youth engagement in politics is so low, I didn’t expect most of our students to go out of their way to attend an external debate,” said Caroline Bourbonnière, VP External for the Concordia Student Union, which co-hosted the debate. “I thought hosting one at Concordia would facilitate their participation and spark an interest for politics.”
Thomas Daigle, a graduate of Concordia’s journalism program and weekend anchor of CBC News Montreal, moderated the debate. It was attended by about 80 people—largely students who live in Plateau-Mont-Royal—and revolved around three main themes: urban planning and housing; public transit; and life in the borough, including municipal bylaw P-6 and saving local businesses.
On Urban Planning
Ferrandez spoke about the impending closure of the Royal Victoria and Hôtel-Dieu hospitals as “fantastic opportunities” for the borough. Aside from providing more room for green spaces, Ferrandez said that their parking lots could be turned into new housing projects, including social housing.
“[Developers] will ask for zoning laws to change them from hospitals to condominiums, or hospitals to office buildings, or anything else,” said Ferrandez. “There, we can interfere and say, ‘Okay, yes, if you give us 20 per cent for social housing,’ for example. We’ve been very good at doing that.”
Huggins, the incumbent borough councilor in the Jeanne-Mance district and until recently a member of Projet Montréal, challenged Ferrandez, demanding more social housing instead of condos. She also criticized him for imposing fines on bar owners in the borough as well as failing to protect existing green spaces.
“You’d think that Projet Montréal, because they’re a green party, would actually stand up to the threats but unfortunately they haven’t, which is why I left the party a month ago over the refusal to save the Notman Garden, which is a historical garden on the corner of Milton and Clark [streets],” said the former Concordia student and board member of CUSACorp, the CSU’s for-profit subsidiary.
“It’s got the oldest trees on the Plateau, 30 trees, some rare trees, and they might even be the oldest trees in Montreal.”
Fakotakis, another former Concordia student, previously served as borough councillor in the Mile-End district from 2005 to 2009 with the scandal-plagued and now-defunct municipal party Union Montréal. She was called in at the last minute to represent Équipe Denis Coderre in the debate, replacing borough mayor candidate Gilbert Thibodeau.
Repeatedly stressing the need to involve the public in decision-making, Fakotakis insisted that more public consultation should have been undertaken by Ferrandez’s administration before it implemented measures to calm traffic in the borough.
However, she appeared underprepared and provided brief answers to the moderator’s questions, leading Daigle to urge her to elaborate at one point.
Côté, an activist-turned-entrepreneur, was the only political neophyte in the debate but appeared relaxed and related well to the young crowd.
He addressed the commitments of Le Vrai changement pour Montréal regarding green spaces throughout the city: promoting urban agriculture with 20 new community gardens throughout Montreal in the next four years; planting 300,000 trees by 2021; and making green or white roofs obligatory for new large buildings.
In the last municipal election, in 2009, Projet Montréal candidates swept all seven available positions in Plateau-Mont-Royal, taking control of its borough council for the first time.
Borough councillor Carl Boileau left Projet Montréal in 2012 to join the Vision Montréal party—now a component of Montreal mayoral candidate Marcel Côté’s Coalition Montreal. Huggins parted ways with Projet Montréal in September.
Ferrandez defended his party’s initiatives in the borough over the past four years against attacks from his opponents.
“We’ve tried something that everybody’s talked about for years,” said Ferrandez. “We’ve tried to make it possible for people to live close to the city, as much as possible without the car, in a district that will attract as much as possible families. And that has brought to us a tremendous amount of critics and resistance.”
On Public Transit
Regarding public transit, Fakotakis and Côté both questioned Ferrandez on Projet Montréal’s proposal to bring the tramway back to Montreal. All three of his opponents instead promoted their parties’ plans for bus rapid transit, which they suggested would be less expensive.
“Sometimes the [bus rapid transit lines are] the best option, but not all the time,” replied Ferrandez. “Maybe on certain arteries like René-Lévesque [Boulevard] or Avenue du Parc, it would be more intelligent in these places to put the tramway.
“The tramway is narrower. It has in some cases some advantages,” he continued.
Huggins and Côté agreed that student pricing for monthly transit passes, currently only available to those aged 25 and under, should be extended to all students regardless of age. Ferrandez went even further in advocating that it be applied to all low-income residents.
There were a couple of issues on which the candidates deviated from party lines. For instance, Côté confirmed that his party, like the others, is in favour of creating more bike lanes. However, as a cyclist and a representative of the Mile End, he said that he is opposed to the plan because bike lanes are dangerous and take up too much space.
On Bylaw P-6
As for municipal bylaw P-6, Huggins said she agrees with the requirement that protesters provide their route to police in advance, but will push to repeal the bylaw, which also prohibits the wearing of masks during a protest.
“Luckily, under the Coalition Montréal, I have a free vote,” said Huggins, referring to her party’s promise to allow its elected officials to diverge from the party line. She suggested that if all the councillors could vote independently of their party, the contentious bylaw would have been repealed already.
Exactly where Coalition Montréal stands on the bylaw as a whole is unclear, although the party is in favour of that same requirement supported by Huggins, according to La Presse.
David Côté, who also suggested he would vote against P-6, said the same about the requirement for itineraries to be given to police.
Ferrandez was less nuanced.
“We are the only party that has refused and rejected P-6,” he said, adding that Alex Norris, the incumbent Mile End city councillor and Projet Montréal candidate running against Huggins and Fakotakis for the Jeanne-Mance city councillor seat, led the charge against P-6.
Fakotakis was the only candidate who came out in favour of the bylaw.
“The right of freedom and the right of expression is not inhibited by P-6 necessarily,” she said. “I think it’s paramount to protect the public, and the public includes students.”
Nevertheless, Fakotakis added that the police are sometimes too aggressive, citing as an example the 2008 shooting death of Fredy Villanueva.
Towards the end of the debate, Côté ultimately said that he would vote for Ferrandez for borough mayor, given his party’s lack of a candidate for that position.
The debate was co-hosted by the CSU, the Graduate Students’ Association, the Students’ Society of McGill University and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill.