Potential homeowners in Quebec might want to ensure that properties they want to buy have proper construction permits from the municipality before closing the sale.
If not, they could be in the same position as 144 Laval residents who bought condos in 2005. Although Aldo Construction did receive permits to install sewage, plumbing and electricity for 12 buildings on an unidentified street, construction permits were never issued.
Now that all the units are sold, the current owners are responsible.
One of these owners was among 166 citizens who complained to Laval’s ombudsman Nadine Mailloux last year, so the issue was detailed in her 2014 report tabled for city councillors on Tuesday, May 5.
The City is choosing to change the regulations to enable the construction permits to be given out, hopefully by July 31,” said Mailloux, during a reporters’ briefing the following day. “The City of Laval is currently studying the file.”
The construction permit issue was among 19 complaints that took Mailloux more than three months to resolve. She also spent lots of time resolving complaints that Laval dumped snow on private land, high taxes for empty lots and unfair zoning changes.
The vast majority (93) of complaints were easy to resolve, taking only five days. An additional 35 were resolved within a single month.
The City of Laval has people with incredible knowledge and expertise, but sometimes the difference between favouritism and inequality is not always clear to city bureaucrats,” she said. “Sometimes they just need a different look at an issue. All of my suggestions so far have been accepted or are being analyzed now.”
Mailloux says that the new administration is “noticeably different than the previous one.”
Note: This article appeared in the Laval issue of The Suburban on Wednesday, May 13.
Anyone who calls Laval’s new anti-corruption hotline can remain anonymous if they choose.
So said Laval police chief Pierre Brochet when asked to clarify a guideline in the operations policy manual that requires Laval employees to inform managers about corruption, fraud or other misdeeds before using the hotline.
An employee could call the line and remain anonymous,” he said. “If you are a blue collar worker, you should tell your superior, but we are going to protect whistle-blowers. We will not accept negative ramifications or threats. All the directors have said they will respect that concept.”
Although the hotline functions as an integral part of Laval’s ethics and integrity office (Bureau d’intégrité et d’éthique de Laval or BIEL), Brochet says that the city bureaucrats who head the office (city manager Serge Lamontagne, human resources director Marc-André Vigeant, legal department manager Patrice F. Guay and assistant general manager for administration Carole Imbeault) will not interfere with investigations.
I’m independent,” he said in an interview with the Suburban last week.. “The administrative committee is a place to reflect on ethical situations, but they will not be involved in the practical level of the organization. We have a separate office for the hotline operations. We guarantee that calls will be confidential.”
Anyone who does provide their name to police can get feedback about how the investigation into their complaint is progressing, but callers can provide tips without giving their names. Anyone who has no confidence in local police can dial two to reach the provincial unit investigating corruption (UPAC) directly.
When I arrived in Laval a year-and-a-half ago, one of my goals was to do the best I can to fight corruption and collusion,” said Brochet. “I proposed a new model to do this. I have a new unit to do it.”
Brochet says he has three investigators in charge of administrative complaints, while two police officers and an analyst are investigating criminal issues. The criminal investigators are being led by Inspector Chantale Sicard, but Brochet didn’t provide the names of anyone else within the unit.
He plans to provide an annual report about BIEL hotline operations directly to city council so that the public will be fully informed. The first report will be due soon.
The project to tear down the old Notre-Dame-Lourdes school on Pie-X in Chomedey and build a four-storey 67-unit social housing complex is one step closer to reality.
We learned this morning that the Société d’habitation du Québec (SHQ) has reserved 67 units for a project on Pix X,” said Nicholas Borne, earlier this month.
Borne serves as city councillor for the Laval-les-Îles district and is also president of his city’s housing authority, the Office municipal d’habitation de Laval.
We’ve rezoned the area for four storeys and we’ve been waiting for news because as you know, the news for the SHQ in the last budget wasn’t good. Despite those budget cuts, our project is still a priority.”
Borne credits Guy Ouellett, MNA for Chomedey with the decision to ensure that the $11.3 million project happens. The estimate includes more than $200,000 to tear down the old school.
Now that the funding hurdle has been overcome, he says there are three more challenges to getting the new building underway and functioning well. He says that he and others want to ensure that the project gets underway as soon as possible so that it can house who are currently living in mold-contaminated buildings.
Many of them don’t want to move.
We are trying to rehouse people who are living in residences with mold, but they don’t want to leave,” said Borne. “We want them to leave and we have other apartments for them to move into, but they say that they’re not sick, so they don’t want to leave.”
Local neighbours are also resisting the project, because they are unhappy with its proposed height. Resident Nicole Provost presented a petition with 109 signatures to city council in February. She and the other people who signed are asking that the new building to be no higher than two storeys so that it will fit in with pre-existing structures in the neighbourhood.
Their request will not be respected.
This project isn’t viable at less than four storeys high,” said Borne. “You have to understand that because this project is a PPU, there is no right to a referendum. We have to inform people, but they can’t ask for a register for a referendum.”
The Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation will also have some say over the project, since they hold a mortgage on the property. Borne expects that hurdle to be easily overcome now that funding from the Province has come through.
Despite the need to negotiate with residents, neighbours and a landlord, Borne is confident that ground-breaking for the new building will take place in 2016.
He’s working with his team to make sure that architectural plans are completed by the end of 2015 to ensure that happens.
Note: This story appeared on page 1 of the Laval version of The Suburban on April 8, 2015.
Quebec approved Laval’s new flood zone bylaw M.R.C.L. 4.20 earlier this month.
Correcting the situation for citizens penalized by the old flood levels was one of our first promises the day of our election,” said Demers. “After 15 months, I’m proud to be able to say ‘mission accomplished.’ Seven hundred residents can now rest easy. Now we can begin working to assist citizens whose properties still lie within the flood zone.”
Those residents still can’t expand or improve their properties, but Demers says that there may be a way to change the regulations to allow some building as long as the impact is minimal. City employees will be examining that issue closely over the coming months.
Today, we’re very happy for the people whose homes have fallen within the 20-to-100 year zone because life is going to be much less complicated for them now,” said Jeanne Tremblay, who represented the Laval West Citizens’ Committee at the press conference. “We aren’t forgetting about the people who live in the zero-to-twenty-zone, though, because they’re really penalized. We don’t even know how many people that is, because we can’t sort out the situation house by house until we have the flood plain maps. I don’t know when those will be available.”
Neither does anyone else.
During the press conference, Demers gave reporters a copy of a letter he received one day earlier. Sylvain Boucher, the deputy minister of Quebec’s municipal affairs ministry (Ministère des Affaires municipals et de l’Occupation du territoire) wrote the letter on March 27 to inform Laval that their new bylaw can go into effect as soon as the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal (CMM) sends the city a conformance certificate.
That may take time.
The new flood zone limits for the Mille-Îles and des Prairies rivers were accepted for the territory of Laval, but have not yet been accepted for municipalities to the north of the Mille Îles River and to the south of the des Prairies River (ie Montreal),” said Denis Fafard, Laval’s assistant city manager in charge of sustainable development and the person in charge of getting the required certificate from the CMM. “A discussion has to take place between the government, the CMM and other affected municipalities before beginning the flood plain cartography that will identify the new zones.”
Fafard did not want to guess how long it might be before new maps might be available. For now, citizens are using the 1995 maps to estimate their situation.
Note: This article appeared on page 5 of the Laval version of The Suburban on April 8, 2015.
When Laval independent councillor Pierre Anthian questioned why bureaucrats deemed his research expense claims invalid, he raised two important issues about how Quebec democracy functions.
Other Laval politicians seem to think that Anthian has shared his expense claims with journalists. He has not. Nor has he made them public on a website or anywhere else.
That raises an important third question. Why not?
Should any politicians’ expense claims remain private?
I don’t think so. Every time I do a story about expense claims and budgets, I’m reminded of three years working as a public servant for the State of Florida during the 1980s. Florida has a very strong public access law called the Sunshine Law.
In Florida, politicians and bureaucrats always recognize that the public is the final arbiter of their choices. Meetings are public. Expenses are public. All disputes are resolved publicly.
As described on the website of Florida’s Attorney General,
This law provides that any records made or received by any public agency in the course of its official business are available for inspection [by the public], unless specifically exempted by the Florida Legislature. Over the years, the definition of what constitutes “public records” has come to include not just traditional written documents such as papers, maps and books, but also tapes, photographs, film, sound recordings and records stored in computers.
When I worked in Florida’s Canadian office, the Sunshine Law required me to justify every project planned next to a precise budget on an annual basis.
When politicians wanted to cut the budget, they slashed specific projects.
My salary was private, but it was combined with the salary of other civil servants so that politicians could see how much the Toronto office cost to run. Any member of the public could look at those lists and understand how much their local library, pools, arenas or school cost to run.
If a politician came to Canada, all the details of their trips were public. How much did they spend on meals? Who did they meet with and where was the meeting held?
If Quebec offered even a quarter of that clarity in its budget, the Charbonneau Commission might not have been needed. Politicians wouldn’t be able to divide the expenditures of a single function into two or three different budget lines to hide the full cost.
Cash hidden in socks might still happen, but the public might be able to guess from whom the cash came.
Quebec needs to operate under a similar philosophy. We need a Sunshine Law.
Until that happens, politicians in Laval and everywhere else will have to wonder whether they’re being treated fairly.
Anthian’s case has all the Laval politicians questioning each other about their expenses. They are asking each other whether they made claims for certain items and whether those claims are valid. The rules are so complicated that Laval politicians say they’ve had multiple training sessions to understand how to apply them.
Yet they still make claims that have been refused.
On one hand, it’s reassuring to read that politicians other than Anthian have had their expense claims refused. On the other, it’s worrying to learn that bureaucrats are the final arbiters about which politicians get reimbursed and how much they receive.
Laval bureaucrats have not yet explained their decision to deny Anthian’s claims in detail. They simply cite the rules they are using to judge all expenses, which are briefly outlined in a 14-page research guide. That guide says things like “all research expenses clamed must respond to a real and useful need.”
Clearly, much is left to interpretation.
Anthian now believes that the only way he’ll get a fair hearing will be in front of a judge in a court of law. He’s speaking with lawyers to see whether he has a case, but the costs of such an action may prevent him from following that route.
In the meantime, he continues to ask questions about political expenses and privacy. Why does the mayor of Laval need one car, let alone two? Why are citizens paying for politicians’ meals during a fundraiser? Why do budgetary discussions have to be made in private by the executive committee instead of publicly during city council?
Why doesn’t Quebec have a Sunshine Law?