Montrealers head to the polls next year for a widely anticipated municipal election pitting incumbent mayor Denis Coderre against what now seems likely to be unified opposition under the banner of Projet Montréal. That party is currently holding a leadership race to decide which of three candidates will be their standard-bearer.
There has been little coverage of this leadership race in the legacy media, and even less in English media. That’s too bad, because the course of one of Canada’s largest cities over the next half-decade is at stake.
Ricochet livestreamed the party’s leadership debate last month and has conducted feature interviews with each of the three candidates in hopes of providing Projet members, and Montrealers at large, with more information about the choices available to them.
François Limoges is a city councillor representing the Saint-Édouard district of Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie. In this interview he outlines his top policy ideas, his approach to companies such as Airbnb and Uber, his support for the right to protest and his opposition to the city’s pit bull ban and racism in the police force.
This is the first installment in a series that will allow each candidate to make their case to party members in their own words. Interviews with Guillaume Lavoie and Valérie Plante will be published next week.
You're running to be leader of Projet Montréal, you want to be mayor of Montreal, so what are the top three issues that you want to work on if you do become mayor?
The first one is my mobility plan, the 10-45 plan, which is the promise of putting aside the politics of investments in public transit and making the promise that every Montrealer will be no more than 10 minutes away from public transit, and that their trip will take a maximum of 45 minutes from their destination. This is my top priority.
The second one would be the creation of three to five new public markets in Montreal — big public markets, not just small stands with a few fruits and vegetables, but public markets the size of Jean-Talon Market, or Atwater Market. This will revitalize some key areas of the city that need more food options but also more public appeal, more spaces to meet people, to eat local food, to taste new products.
My third priority would be to create a grid park, which would be an investment in green alleys. It's a very popular program in Rosemont and the Plateau, but I would expand it to all the boroughs that have alleys. With good signage and protected pedestrian crosswalks you could gather these green alleys into a huge, linear park that would make a very cool grid in Montreal. You could go, using alleys, from one neighbourhood to another while never really walking on the street or taking your car, and in the process see how people have redeveloped these alleys.
I think it could be an international signature for Montreal: this huge linear park, using all the green alleys and connecting them to create a grid park in Montreal.
I know you've spoken out often in opposition to bylaw P-6 in the past. Under your administration, can we be confident that there would be no P-6, that there would be no attempt to infringe on the right to demonstrate peacefully in Montreal?
[Laughing] You're asking me that?
My administration would respect fundamental rights. Period. Fundamental rights are fundamental. That's it.
I also wanted to ask about the pit bull ban. Can you tell me your thoughts on breed-specific legislation?
My position is the same as my party. This is a bad decision, based on impressions and the mayor's desire to be in the media for a few days or weeks. This regulation was passed without anything scientific, without gathering any facts.
I believe in fact-finding before you make any regulation, and Projet Montréal asked many specialists, “What is the right thing to do?” The right thing to do is to enforce the existing regulations, and to put money into enforcement, into inspectors. The regulations already exist. We just need to make sure they’re respected.
Would you make affordable housing a priority in your administration?
Yes, of course. My mother spent the last 20 years in a housing co-op, so I know how it can ensure that people are able to live in dignity, even if they're poor. This is very important to me, because I've seen it with my mother.
I don't know where she would have lived if she didn't have the co-op, because she's paying a little more than $300 a month to have a very nice apartment. She wouldn't be able to afford a private apartment.
So I really believe in affordable housing. Unlike [leadership candidate and city councillor] Valérie [Plante], I don't have an exact figure of how much money I would invest in it. It would be more than Coderre of course.
I think the city should acquire land for social housing, I don't know if $100 million [as suggested by Plante] is the exact target, I think it's very generous of Valérie, but I don't know if it's accurate because even if you have all that land, if the Quebec government doesn't raise the cap on social housing here in the Montreal region you can't do more than the government allows.
So even if you have thousands of square feet of land, if you can't do more than 800 [units] per year, you won't make a difference.
Certainly the mayor of Montreal should take a leadership role with Quebec and with Ottawa. They are the ones that are supposed to put money in, and Quebec with the SHQ [Société d'habitation du Québec] is the one that regulates the cap, the maximum of social housing you can build in an area. This cap should be raised, first of all.
You have to buy land, but you also have to convince the Quebec government to invest more and to raise the maximum of units you can build in a year. This is the right strategy I think.
I wanted to ask about companies like Uber and Airbnb, what is sometimes called the "sharing economy." What would your approach be to these type of business models, which some criticize for driving down wages or reducing the availability of rental housing?
I think every case is very different. It's different for housing and for transport. For housing like Airbnb, I think it's like the war on drugs in the U.S. You have to legalize it if you want to regulate it. You can't ignore it, you can't just say "oh, it's illegal" because people will do it anyway and you'll have more problems. I think you have to recognize it and regulate it.
For Airbnb and other platforms for housing, the rule would be very simple: You can rent a bedroom or your own apartment if you live in it, and for a maximum of days in the year. So for example, if you have a vacant room in your apartment you can rent it maybe 90 days in the year, and you can rent your own apartment where you live, if you go on vacation say, for a maximum of 30 days in the year.
What you want to avoid is people buying or renting multiple apartments just to rent them on Airbnb to make a profit. This will create a downward spiral of vacancy rates for apartments.
But if someone's roommate is going away and they want to rent the room for a few days on Airbnb, why not? If you're going on vacation for three weeks and you want to rent your apartment on Airbnb, why not? This would be a good balance. People can rent their place for a few nights in the year and make a little money. It would be good for tourism, but without causing a shortage of rental housing.
For mobility, I am totally for it, so long as the companies are in Quebec and are paying their taxes. We should welcome anyone who wants to make a mobile application to share cars. I would say go for it, because this is good for reducing cars in the city. The same way I'm completely for car-sharing services like Car2go and Communauto anywhere in town.
My problem is not with private mobility. My problem is with the companies that practice fiscal evasion.
We've seen calls recently for a commission on systemic racism. This is obviously a provincial issue rather than a municipal one, but we do see a lot of allegations of racism towards the Montreal police.
I've already made a commitment on that, and I think it's very simple. Graduates from Nicolet [Quebec’s police training academy] are not ready to work in Montreal. Period.
I would ensure that people who apply for a job with the SPVM would be required to do a 12-week training on diversity in Montreal. As mayor, I would create that training program, and you would have to pass it before the SPVM could hire you.
Because now they are just not ready when they enter the police force.
Part of the problem we have with the Montreal police is that there are very rarely consequences for their actions, so would you do something to make sure that there are consequences? Training or no training, when police officers behave badly, commit acts of misconduct, would you make sure that there are real consequences, that those police officers are fired?
Yes. Of course, yes. I don't have the exact solution, and again it's a case of working with Quebec, because there's a law governing the police in Quebec, but yes, of course.
The current system doesn't work. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it.
Would you like to see a civilian review board just for the SPVM? A Montreal-based civilian review board to probe allegations of police misconduct?
I think the first step would be to open the public security commission at city hall, and make it open to the public. Their meetings are held behind closed doors now, and the first step would be to open that. After that, yes, I'm open to many things, but as I said the first step is the public security commission. The next step could be a civilian review board, but I don't have the exact solution right now.
Yes, there's a need for transparency. I absolutely agree. But I don't want to talk out of my hat and say, "Yes, yes, yes, I'll do that." It's not something where I have a clear and precise engagement to offer yet, but I agree in principle. It's just a question of finding the right solution.
The decision right now is with the members of Projet Montréal to choose who is the best candidate to take on Coderre in next year's election. It looks like an uphill battle no matter who is elected leader, so what would you tell Projet members about why you are the best candidate to take on Coderre?
I hate those kind of questions, why I'm better than the two others. I'm not better than the two others. I think everyone could do a good job against Coderre.
I think the real choice is not just about who do you want against Coderre, it's who do you want against Coderre and how do you want to fight against Coderre. How do you want shape this campaign?
Who you choose really depends on your answer to that question.
My campaign will be a collective campaign. I will beat Coderre with strong proposals, every week a new election commitment. I would make very strong commitments, with very original ideas to convince Montrealers that we are the solution to the emptiness of the Coderre administration.
To challenge Denis Coderre, and his public relations show, I think you should have a very strong platform and very strong commitments. You have to make Montrealers dream again.
I care deeply about social well-being, and poverty, and you know, I am a guy from the left. But I do think that you should make Montrealers dream again with big proposals, with commitments that could change everyday life for all Montrealers.
The other thing is that this is a one-man administration. My campaign would be a collective campaign. I would nominate my executive committee during the campaign and put the most competent people in Projet Montréal in the spotlight, because I believe Projet Montréal is a team effort, I believe the party has many very talented people within it, and I would give them the spotlight. It would be a team campaign.
These are the two ways I will campaign against Coderre: with strong proposals and an all-star team.