On March 14, from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., 249 citizens living close to the Bellemare grocery store development in Verdun asked for a referendum about the project. Now the borough has to hold a referendum that they are likely to lose or the developer has to pull the project and perhaps submit a revised version for consideration again.
The process wasn’t easy and if Quebec Bill 122 goes through, this will be among the last times it happens.
This was a great example in which local government officials set up a city development project that went beyond what local citizens can stand. Locals are always concerned that a project fits in with its neighbours. They care that unit costs within a development aren’t too high, that parking remains available, and that traffic isn’t worsened. Developers and city officials are concerned with increasing the density in a region, building higher-priced units that generate more tax dollars and “beautifying” neighbourhoods, which almost always means gentrification.
With this project, the borough of Verdun was very happy with the project they negotiated, which expands a beloved grocery story and creates rental units rather than condos. Several proposed units are large enough to accommodate families, a big need in Verdun. The developer has also offered to contribute $150,000 to build social housing.
Neighbours were not happy at all. The worried about the potential traffic and parking headaches that the four-storey 67-unit mixed use building will generate. They know that the grocery store parking lot will be frequently used, but the major street next to it is one-way, so anyone who visits the store will have to leave by the smaller residential streets. There’s also a school right across the street from Metro Bellemare, so it will be children negotiating passage through the traffic. Parking is already difficult.
To try to lessen the project’s impact, residents living on Claude, de l’Eglise, Evelyn, Galt, Gertrude, Gordon, Hickson, Joseph and Verdun had to negotiate a byzantine process that included verifying via a formal legal notice whether they had the right to participate. If they did, they went to Verdun borough hall, 4555, rue de Verdun, Salle du conseil, local 205, to sign a register for a referendum about the project. If they didn’t, they’re still annoyed.
Developer Robert Bellemare had things even tougher. He faced criticism, graffitti and hate while trying to present the positive sides of his project. He’s already spent a year negotiating with the borough’s local development committee. Then he spent several months trying to win over critics. His latest attempt occurred the morning of the register according to Radio Canada. That move was to create a citizen consultation committee to ensure his grocery store expansion is done in such a way that they will approve. There were other changes too, but according to my colleague’s story, they weren’t sufficient to keep residents from signing the register.
The borough also faced lots of criticism during the project, especially after the Mayor told the developer which zones they opened, allowing him to open additional spots and raise the number of residents who had to sign the register. (See this story in the Metro and this one on Radio-Canada).
In the end, 249 people of the 2,294 who live near the project signed the register. This was just a few more than the 243 people that were required . The borough can now hold a referendum about the project or the developer can pull the project, make the changes citizens demand and resubmit the project to the city again.
As tough as the process is for everyone involved, its advantage is that it keeps neighbourhood development in the hands of the citizens who live there. Everyone would prefer something easier. On the ground, citizens say they should be involved earlier in the process, when a project developer is beginning to present his project to the borough.
Quebec’s provincial government has a different idea. They prefer to remove all citizen clout entirely with Bill 122. If it goes through, citizens will have no say over what happens in their neighbourhoods.
I interviewed Véronique Martineau, the candidate in Verdun for Québec Solidaire.
During our conversation, she spoke about the importance of transparency, making sure that MPPs spend their discretionary funds to help locals and her plans to campaign to raise the minimum wage no matter what happens Monday.
Listen to it on my Unapologetically Canadian Podcast on MixCloud.
My article on the Verdun by-election appears on the front page of the Suburban this week.
Six of the eight candidates met with residents for breakfast last weekend at Baobab (4800 Wellington).
The crowds were bigger for Liberal candidate Isabelle Melançon and CAQ candidate and former Verdun borough mayor, Ginette Marotte. Local Richard Langlais, who is running for the PQ and co-owns the aux purs delices bakery on de L’eglise with his spouse Micheline Lefebvre, also drew several people as did Véronique Martineau for Québec solidaire and Frédéric Dénommé for Option nationale.
David Cox, for the Green Party of Québec, brought his daughter to the event and was greeted politely.
David Girard for the Équipe Adrien Pouliot – Parti conservateur du Québec, and Sébastien Poirier for Équipe autonomiste did not attend.
An interview with, and article about, Véronique Martineau will appear later today.
Verdun citizens have a great opportunity to vote this week.
They can vote in a provincial representative who really knows how to get things done within the current party in power or they can choose someone who really understands Verdun well while giving the current party in power a wake-up call that change is needed now. If they choose the second option, they can choose a woman who understands politics well and left the current party in power because she doesn’t believe they’re ethical or they can choose a businessman who is campaigning about improving schools in Verdun.
Any of those choices will give us a well-rounded committed hard-working representative in the provincial legislature.
Unfortunately, if recent trends persist, most people won’t participate.
According to Quebec’s electoral body, the rate of participation in by-elections ranges from 18% in 2013 to a high of 81% in 1979. Most of the time, they hover among the 30% rate.
Isn’t that a problem for our democracy? I think it is, as do most politically active people.
That’s why so many of us have been working to inform Verdun citizens.
Most of the local candidates have been working hard to get out the vote. All of them have spent hours going door-to-door, standing at Metro stops and meeting with groups and individuals to make their message heard.
Monsignor Richard high school set up a debate and 325 students came out to hear the candidates speak.
One of the candidates organized a public debate at the Epiphanie Church on Wellington last week when he saw that there wasn’t one scheduled.
A municipal councillor and local parents invited candidates to present their messages individually to electors at a local coffee shop last Saturday.
Still, lots of my neighbours say they’re happy to let others make the choice for them.
That approach isn’t getting good results. According to various reports, Quebec has an unusually-high drop-out rate, the highest taxes, the highest migration rate and a “middle of the pack” score on health. Everyone knows how bad the roads are.
These are all issues handled by the provincial government and if we want these things to be improved, we had better make sure that the people who represent us are going to act.
That’s why I voted yesterday. Unfortunately, there were only five of us there.
Luckily, there’s still time.
The provincial election office has set up voting stations in homes, in senior centres and at public locations yesterday and today.
To learn more about the candidates vying for your vote, consider listening to the 20-minute interviews I did with each of the top three candidates for my new podcast. They are: Isabelle Melançon, Richard Langlais and Ginette Marotte.
If Verdun residents prefer, they can choose one of the single-issue candidates or candidates who represent the less-popular parties.
If you live in Verdun, I hope this information encourages you to get out there and vote on December 5.
If you don’t live in Verdun, but you live in Quebec, you can follow the Director General of Elections to make sure you know when the next election takes place where you live.
If you live somewhere else, consider finding and following your own appropriate non-partisan body in charge of elections. In fact, I’d love it if you could share them in the comments below so that everyone in your region can do the same.
Last Thursday and Friday, I got a chance to interview Ginette Marotte to ask her why she thinks Verdun residents should vote for her to represent them in the Quebec legislature.
She spoke about her desire to re-enter politics after seeing Robert Poeti demoted. “He’s the most honest politician I’ve ever met,” she said. She also spoke about her need to make sure that her values and love for seniors and children are reflected in provincial education policy.
Had to interview her twice because I forgot to press the play button on our first interview! Sorry, Ginette. Our conversation is in English on Mixcloud:
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