Projet leadership

INTERVIEW: Projet Montréal leadership candidate Guillaume Lavoie

On systemic racism, Airbnb, pit bulls, police misconduct and the right to protest
Louis Longpré - Projet Montréal

Guillaume Lavoie is a city councillor in Rosemont and a candidate for the leadership of Projet Montréal, the municipal opposition party that will elect a new leader on Dec. 4th. In this in-depth interview he outlines his positions on systemic racism and pit bulls, and offers specific policy ideas on social housing, regulation of the sharing economy and police misconduct.

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This is the second in a series of interviews with the candidates for leadership of Projet Montréal. The third and final interview, with city councillor Valerie Plante, will be published Friday. Party members vote for their next leader on Sunday, Dec. 4.

What are the top three issues for you?

I think mobility is at the core of modern cities. That's the core issue that's at stake, and there are three types of mobility that I would like to work on. First is physical mobility. No matter where you are, no matter where you want to go, there should be an option that is cheaper, faster and easier to get you from point A to point B.

The real challenge for modern cities is how do you increase mobility, all while reducing your carbon footprint? So that will be one of the fundamentals of our campaign.

The second is social mobility. Modern cities like Montreal should not only be a place to live, but a place to change the alignment of your stars. They should be places for cultural activities, for learning, for meeting different people and interacting with different social and cultural environments. A lot of the collective tools we're building, from the libraries to the cultural programs, to how we care for the least fortunate among us, from housing to cleanliness, that’s the very core of what we consider social mobility.

I think the Coderre administration is managing the city on a small, petty, partisan calculus of adding up particular interests in order to create a coalition.

Thirdly, economic mobility. Montreal should not only be a place to do business. It should be a place known worldwide as the easiest place to innovate, to launch a business, to develop, to create, and we need leaders who understand that innovation brings a certain level of disruption. The true measure of leadership and support for innovation is not the words, [I can say that] I like apple pie just like the next guy, it's your level of tolerance for disruption and how you are able to cope with these changes, to create a new framework to both welcome the change and help out those who are left a little bit on the side.

That's the spirit with which we're approaching this campaign, with a great concern for the general welfare. I think the Coderre administration is managing the city on a small, petty, partisan calculus of adding up particular interests in order to create a coalition.

Anyone who aims to manage a leading modern city should have a view for the long term and the general welfare of all citizens, not just those who might have voted for them.

If you're mayor, can we be assured that we'll never see a return of bylaw P-6, which was used to kettle, arrest and ticket peaceful protesters before being functionally struck down by the courts?

Even before I was a politician, when I was an analyst in the media, I always opposed P-6. I think it's bad legislation contrary to the fundamental rights of citizens and I cannot support that. I was always opposed to P-6, and I will always continue to be.

One issue that has gotten a lot of attention in Montreal is the call for a commission of inquiry into systemic racism. That is a provincial issue, but there are ongoing concerns around the treatment of visible minorities by the Montreal police. Would you support a commission of inquiry into systemic racism? What would you do as mayor to address the concerns of communities about their treatment by the police?

First of all, I would support such a commission. I was extremely concerned and saddened by a report by a young journalist at Radio-Canada, who demonstrated quite clearly that there is systemic discrimination depending on your name, or how it sounds, and perhaps even how you look. We have to eradicate such behaviours from our minds and our hearts and our city.

I don't care how long you've been in the city, whether you landed here with Maisonneuve or you're fresh off the plane. This is a city of immigrants, and I am one too.

My own background, I'm a guy from Chicoutimi, which is not exactly a place where you run into a lot of people who are quite different from you, but I spent a great deal of my adult life abroad. I often say the root of my understanding of these problems comes from my first international experience, when I got to spend time and live in South Africa. I was 21 at the time, and that has really left a fundamental imprint on how I see the world and the challenges of truly living together.

Discrimination is not only about certain behaviours that you can prove. It's fundamentally rooted in cultural biases and behaviours that are never denounced or combatted.

Montreal is a city of immigrants. I don't care what colour you are, I don't care where you come from, I don't care how long you've been in the city, whether you landed here with Maisonneuve or you're fresh off the plane. This is a city of immigrants, and I am one too.

The first thing one has to do to solve a problem is recognize that we have one. As a candidate for the leadership I'll say so, as the leader of the opposition I'll push on the issue, and as mayor it will be at the very top of the list.

An issue in this city with the police is a lack of accountability. Bad cops feel emboldened by the fact that there never seem to be consequences for officers who commit misconduct. As mayor, will you stand up to the police and ensure there are real consequences for police officers who violate the public trust?

There are three major things I would do for the police forces. First, more training. Being a police officer today is not only about the strength you have, or the combat technique you have, or how you handle a gun. There is a crying need for greater, finer social abilities. A police officer’s job is not only about law enforcement. It’s about social mediation. And that has to be at the very core of how we train future police officers.

If you want to be mayor, you can't oppose science.

The second is recruitment. Sadly, we have to recognize that our police force does not reflect the social and ethnic makeup of the city of Montreal. I want the police force to make an extraordinary effort to recruit people from all walks of life, from all ethnic backgrounds, and that in and of itself will make our force better able to understand situations, or cultural biases, and better able to be responsive to the population they are supposed to serve and meet every day as they do their work.

Third, in cases where there is bad behaviour from the police force, some cities have decided to open up the review process, the oversight process, to civilian oversight of the police — a special commission, a review board, that will be made up of citizens. To me, that might contribute to making the police force more responsive to the concerns of the public.

Those are three major principles on which I want to build a more open, kinder and fairer police force.

Will social housing be a priority in your administration?

Absolutely, and a big one. One of the ways that we should measure ourselves as a city is if we are able to provide a roof to all of our citizens. That should be our benchmark.

I really want us to understand that social housing is not something that we have to do in order to have a clean conscience, or something that we are obligated to do. It makes the city stronger.

I don't want social housing to be put in some specific area, but I want it to be all over the city. I want to have a mix of market and social housing all across the city. I think it makes the city greater, it makes us stronger, and this should be seen as something that makes us all richer.

As mayor, how would you reconcile the many people in this city who feel, rightly or wrongly, threatened by pit bulls, with the many others who oppose any attempt to restrict them? How would you bring people together on that issue, and find a solution that everyone can live with?

I was vehemently opposed to the mayor’s proposal from minute one. I thought it was very telling of how mayor Coderre sees his role, and the respect, or lack thereof, that he has for public policy making.

It was a pure populist move, aimed at making the newspapers instead of building a safer city. That was the core of my opposition, first of all, on the approach. There is legitimate concern for safety and security. I have two young kids myself. I use the public parks a lot. That's where we spend a lot of our time with the family. It is a concern, and I am personally very sensitive to it.

If I thought for one second that breed-specific legislation would contribute to making the city safer, I would vote for it in the blink of an eye. But it does not.

If you want to be mayor, you can't oppose science. You can't write policy without considering the experiences of other cities, without trying to find the best practices and taking account of science and facts. Everywhere breed-specific legislation was put in place, it had no impact on what really matters, which is the number of bites and the severity of those bites.

The bylaw that we had in Montreal, which was written just two and a half years ago, was designed following a review of best practices of over 40 cities. It was a good bylaw, but you have to put in the money and the staff to enforce it. The problem with the Coderre administration's approach is that we don't enforce the bylaws that we have. And yet they're trying to make the news with new bylaws.

A bylaw is just a piece of paper. If you don't enforce it, it means nothing. The bylaw we had was excellent, but it was never enforced properly.

In the case of services like Uber and Airbnb, the so-called sharing economy, how would you address concerns about these these platforms, including that they drive down wages and reduce the availability of affordable rental housing?

I always say our approach should be to regulate in order to better allow. There are two fundamental ideas here: It is impossible to regulate something that you're not ready to allow, and it would be irresponsible to allow something you're not ready to regulate.

My approach is not laissez-faire; in fact, it's the opposite of that.

Let me take the specific example of short-term rentals, an industry where Airbnb is certainly the biggest player. I'll just give you the broad strokes of the type of regulations I envisage. The first is what I call the “toothbrush test.”

It's fine if it's where you live. It's not fine, and it should not be permitted, if you rent out a place where you don't live. Then it's all about the scope of it. There's a fundamental difference between you renting it out for two weeks or four months out of the year, and someone who does it 300 days out of the year.

If you review the regulations on this around the world in different cities, you find it's all about finding that sweet spot between what is too much and what is just enough, and that boils down to the number of days. Around the world that ranges from 70 days out of a full year, all the way to 110. That's what exists worldwide. I don't have a number of days in mind now, but that's how you go about regulating these services.

Second, we need a hotline. They're a minority, but there are bad users and bad hosts, which create a nuisance that is impossible for the neighbours. We need to be able to curb those bad behaviours. So if a company is going to operate in Montreal, and I'm the mayor, there's going to be a hotline where the company will have a protocol with the city. If a certain host is problematic I want to be able to pick up the phone and on the other end it will be, "Yes, sir. We're going to take down that name right now from all listings.”

That's where “regulating in order to better allow” makes sense. If you just ignore the problem and say "this doesn't exist," I'm sorry, but this isn't going to stop. This is how you go about designing modern regulations in order to have a modern city.

How do you see yourself in comparison to Denis Coderre? Why are you the best candidate to take on Coderre?

My ability to create a true alternative to Denis Coderre, which will be able to welcome and encompass forces from all walks of life, from all parts of the political spectrum. I don't care if you come from Pierrefonds, or from Rosemont. I intend to govern the entire city, not parts of it. Projet Montréal will become an alternative for all Montrealers, not only those in the centre.

It will be sensible, and we'll create an alternative that is credible, rigorous and reassuring. I think I can provide that, and I've proven over the last three years a mastery of issues that have not been considered the strengths of Projet Montréal, from finances to accountability measures.

I'm not going to let Coderre go unanswered on any issue, from green measures to congestion to the 375th legacy celebrations. We're going to compete everywhere, on all the issues.

Do you identify as a progressive?

Yes, by all means. But the city I envisage is able to respond to concrete problems. Let me boil it down to this: A curb extension is not right, it's not left, it's at the street corner. I consider pedestrian safety a very important issue, and I don't care whether it's right-wing or left-wing. I care that it happens. I care that we do something. I care that we answer concrete problems with concrete solutions.

That's how I see us being able to answer the true concerns of the citizens of Montreal.

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