CSL election battle intensifies over 2004 demerger vote

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The Côte St. Luc election race just heated up greatly, all over the position of some current incumbents during the lead-up to the 2004 demerger referendum.

The demergers of municipalities whose residents voted to do so took effect Jan. 1, 2006.

As The Suburban reported last week, CSL mayoral candidate Robert Libman criticized incumbent Mayor Mitchell Brownstein for, during the latter’s campaign, denouncing Libman for his stance on the mergers. Libman said last week he did not oppose demergers per se, but the Charest government’s Bill 9, “which would have stripped us of clout and political power and forced us into a ‘taxation without representation’ straitjacket.’” The law was since changed. Brownstein countered that Bill 9 gave Côte St. Luc and others the opportunity to demerge.

Libman also contended that incumbents Dida Berku, Mike Cohen and Allan Levine supported Côte St. Luc remaining in the megacity. Brownstein replied that Cohen and Levine voted for demerger.

Berku says she was majority leader in the megacity, but still signed the register, enabling people to vote in the 2004 referendum. Cohen told us that he worked as a communications consultant for the Côte St. Luc-Hampstead-Montreal West borough, and remained neutral. He signed the register and voted in the referendum.

Levine said he signed the register, opposed the stripping of powers from the demerged cities, and “personally supported demergers,” saying it benefits services for residents, such as Emergency Medical Services, in the current City of Côte St. Luc.

That’s where we were last week. But this story has taken on a couple of new twists.

•••

Last Wednesday morning, Libman sent The Suburban a 2004 flyer counselling a vote against demerging, which he said was circulated a week before that year’s demerger referendum.

In it, there’s a picture of then-former councillor Allan Levine, and the following quote: “I believe that a unified City of Montreal is the best way to solve the Cavendish extension issue, the preservation of Meadowbrook Golf Course and the protection of our Emergency Medical Services. That’s why I am voting NO.”

We contacted Levine and sent him a copy of the 2004 flyer. In one of a series of replies, he described it as a “cut and paste that I never saw nor wrote!”

In a second reply, Levine said that the reference in the flyer to EMS “is totally absurd as the City of Montreal uses their fire department [as first responders], which would have killed EMS.

“I knew it then and EMS is my passion, as is Meadowbrook We as a demerged city fought and won to preserve EMS. And this is a major reason why demerger was so wonderful for Côte St. Luc. Also, I never favoured a direct Cavendish-Cavendish link so the claim on Cavendish is ridiculous! Finally, as a demerged city, we have been able to preserve Meadowbrook.

“So the flyer was obviously not my quotes!…We had this discussion 16 years ago and a few times since and my reply was and remains, always the same. Never authorized and never said! What I do say is that ‘demerger was the best thing to happen to Côte St. Luc.’”

We then contacted Libman for his reply to Levine’s response. The mayoral candidate sent us the entire flyer, which includes quotes from several Côte St. Luc, Hampstead and Montreal West residents.

“I don’t do ‘cut and paste’ jobs, or fake endorsements. I found [the flyer] in a demerger document from 2004,” Libman told The Suburban. “A lot of people were very concerned about Bill 9, as [Levine] obviously was, because he cares about his community.”

Libman also responded to Cohen’s statement to us last week, that he never publicly took a position on the demerger issue and remained neutral.

“Emails from Mike Cohen at the time agreeing with my position also expressed similar sentiments and concern about the impact of Bill 9 on our city,” Libman said. “People who looked at the structural and taxation aspects of Bill 9, allowing Montreal to tax us directly, were very concerned. In our hearts everyone was for demerger, but in our heads, Bill 9 was an attack on municipal governance and taxation.”

We then asked Cohen for a reply.

“I was hired by Robert to handle all media relations for the borough,” the District 2 councillor said. “He was my direct superior and as such he corresponded with me a lot during the referendum period and I completed work he assigned to me. I am sure there are some points of view he had I agreed with at the time, and the same goes for Anthony Housefather, whom as a borough councillor at the time communicated with me regularly as well.” (Housefather was a leader of the de-merger movement).

“But I was not an elected official nor was I part of a pro or anti-merger team. I had no choice but to stay out of the public debate. I did sign the register because I believed in the importance of the public deciding on our future. Once I saw the results, it was clear to me that the will to stay in Montreal was not there. It is for that reason I voted to demerge, but I kept that personal as I still had to work with Robert for another year and a half. Anthony Housefather felt confident enough in me to support my candidacy in 2005, go door to door with me and ended up becoming a very close friend.”

N

In my opinion:

The irrefutable FACT is that Anthony Housefather, Mitchell Brownstein, Ruth Kovac and I co-chaired the demerger campaign and succeeded in getting our city of Cote Saint-Luc back.(There’s plenty of posts on that subject right here on this blog).  Had we not done so, CSLers would be voting in the Montreal elections this Nov. 5, would be sending all of our tax dollars to Montreal, would have no life-saving volunteer service, would have lost our police and fire stations in CSL, to mention just a few examples.

I have no interest in risking being remerged into Montreal. Don’t you agree?

You can rest assured that Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and I (not to mention Councillor Ruth Kovac and others) will fight tooth and nail to ensure that Cote Saint-Luc remains its own proud and independent city with excellent services and close proximity to its residents.

CSL demerger co-chairs, 10 years later: Mitchell Brownstein, Anthony Housefather, Glenn J. Nashen, Ruth Kovac

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