From Westmount Watch
Jan. 24, 2011 — The New Year opened badly for Montréal Mayor Gérald Tremblay and his Union Montreal party at City Council on Jan. 24, 2011.
Veteran observers noted that negative press stories, the financial squeeze, and the drying up of stimulus spending have all created a new and unpleasant climate at Montréal City Hall.
A sure sign of this atmosphere came when the council President – the normally dapper and courtly Claude Dauphin – refused permission for a woman in a wheelchair to enter the council chamber with her companion who was going in to pose a question. A year ago Monsieur Dauphin would never have acted so ungraciously.
Montréal’s Executive Committee, for the moment, seems to have adopted a stance: get tough, circle the wagons.
On Monday night the most dramatic issue was the future of Montreal’s famous John Redpath mansion in the city’s Golden Mile. Dinu Bumbaru of Heritage Montréal sought assurance that the city would protect this key part of urban history. He received no such commitment, despite the 2002 pro-preservation decision by the Commission d’Arbitrage pour la protection du patrimoine.
The real issue at City Hall, Bumbaru told Westmount Watch, “is a vacuum of trust.” And he added: “Many of these people see numbers, data, and they forget we live in a real city.”
Westmount Watch asked if Montreal now is slipping dangerously backwards to where we were more than a generation ago, as far as preserving our history is concerned. “Yes,” said Bumbaru, “We see that now, 25 years later, after the Doré-Fainstat period, what has been part of the DNA of Montreal is now just superficial colouring.”
Discussing the building height limit in places such as the Golden Mile, Bumbaru said of the present Montreal regime, “They don’t understand it.” He also cited building on Cedar Ave. and stressed the “McGill University Health Center forgetting about its public commitment not to expand.”
Of the 2002 Commission Redpath decision he said “it is amazing what little enforcement there was.”
When asked about the substance of Council’s reactions on Monday, Bumbaru said “It’s really a wash-basin kind of politics,” and he explained that this meant a conscious political decision to displace responsibility away from council to citizens in order for municipal politicians to avoid doing the housework of government.
“That’s not good, is it?” asked Westmount Watch. “No,” Bumbaru said.
Francisco Moreno of Lasalle went even further. “There is no democracy here,” he commented, “They behave like kings.”
Moreno and other residents in his borough have been denied permission to tape their borough council proceedings, even though they volunteered to make recordings at their own cost.
Lasalle Borough Mayor, Manon Barbe, told Mr. Moreno no such citizen initiative would be allowed. Then she cited the names of a number of boroughs which she said also forbid such taping. Almost immediately, representatives from some of the boroughs she named rose to say that she had spoken in error.
The sour feelings seemed to affect nearly everyone. Helen Fotopoulos came into the reception room outside the chamber to speak to Bumbaru, her tall frame almost quivering with tension – while the head of Heritage Montreal was interviewed by CBC television.
Claude Trudel, the mayor of the borough of Verdun was most unconvincing as he attempted to rationalize why he cannot protect the precious greenspace of the Douglas Hospital. “I am not going to expropriate,” he said, when all he had been asked to do was protect.
Even the usually charming Luc Ferrandez lectured a woman in a wheelchair about why snow removal was patchy in the plateau. Eventually, he came to the real explanation: a rationing of service because of a $4 million debt inherited from his predecessor.
The Green Coalition’s Avrom Shtern saw the new and grim economic climate for north American municipalities at work at City Hall : “What we are seeing here is the chill of the bean counters.”
Shtern was one of the last questioners to speak, “I am here to indicate to the city,” Shtern said, “that it is very important to construct a bicycle bridge adjacent to the new railroad bridge over the old Décarie road near the intersection of deMaisonneuve and Upper Lachine. “
That crossing is known as “the intersection of death,” and Shtern claimed that “as a cyclist I have seen countless accidents at the corner. The issue is safety – but also the fact remains that there has been this missing link between Décarie and Claremont at the Westmount-NDG border.”
Avrom Shtern was one of the last citizens to speak and asked Executive Committee member Michael Applebaum if Montreal will support a bicycle path bridge at the infamous crossway.
Applebaum gave an answer which simultaneously displayed both technical unawareness of active transport and dismissiveness, eventually telling Shtern that the transport planning question somehow hinged on bicyclists being “responsible,” as if the spiritual state of cyclists determined whether road and transport systems were well or poorly planned.
The last citizen to address council was Patrick Barnard of the Green Coalition and the Westmount Walking and Cycling Association. He mentioned that leaders of the McGill super-hospital have just recently indicated an openness to considering the idea of a bicycle bridge at Décarie with the path to go behind the existing metro station. Barnard attempted to elicit a response from Alan DeSousa about whether Montréal could display this same “ouverture” to this idea.
Michael Applebaum stood up and supplied an answer which seemed to indicate that No, no such openness is contemplated.
Then Claude Dauphin again did something out of character. Barnard was denied the usual supplementary question accorded all the other speakers – on the pretext that it was now time to end the citizen part of the evening.
The evening was a succession of No answers. No stand by Tremblay against shale gas exploration on Montréal island. No firm protection for the Douglas Hospital grounds. No commitment to the irreplaceable heritage of the John Redpath Mansion. No understanding of the bike bridge.
Was Francisco Moreno right?
The night outside was cold. Westmount Watch said goodbye to Moreno – “Buena Suerte!” Good Luck!
Yes, “Buena Suerte,” to us, to every last one of us, as Charles Dickens might have said.