Not your average housewarming

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Welcome to Montreal Consul General of Israel David Levy

Welcome to Montreal David Levy.

Mr. Levy is the newly installed Consul General of Israel for Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces and Permanent Representative of Israel to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Having arrived only a few weeks ago, one of Mr. Levy’s first official acts was to invite several community leaders to his home to install a new Mezuzah. I was honoured to attend as a representative of the Jewish General Hospital and its West-Central Montreal health network. 

‘This Mezuzah has kept us safe in Africa, Latvia and South Korea,” Mr. Levy said at the informal ceremony. “We bring it with us on our foreign posts and it will keep us safe here in Montreal.”

On the doorposts of traditional Jewish homes (and many not-so-traditional homes!), you will find a small case like the one pictured below. This case is commonly known as a mezuzah (Hebrew for doorpost), because it is placed upon the doorposts of the house. The mezuzah is not, as some suppose, a good-luck charm, nor does it have any connection with the lamb’s blood placed on the doorposts in Egypt. Rather, it is a constant reminder of God’s presence and mitzvot.

Surely, the Consul General Levy will not only stay safe here in beautiful Montreal, but he and his family will be warmly welcomed in one of the diaspora’s most Zionist communities. Where else do you find major airlines in head to head competition with El Al promoting tourism to Israel, bilateral trade agreements being put in place following high level economic missions and the host country’s two major political parties squabbling over which is more in love with Israel?

Rabbi Yossi, of Chabad Westmount, did the honours of affixing the Mezuzah to the entranceway. He noted that not only was it the Festival of Purim, one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar, commemorating a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination, but the act of affixing the Mezuzah is called Chanukah, literally dedication or renewal. Of course, Chanukah is yet another joyous holiday on the Jewish calendar. And so too, was the renewal of Israel’s representation in Montreal a joyous occasion.

Rabbi Yossi and Consul General Levy affix the Mezuzzah

A first generation Israeli, Mr. Levy grew up in the city of Rehovot. At the age of 18, he volunteered with the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) rescue and medical evacuation. His academic background is in law, political science, diplomacy and security.

He joined the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2002 and, since then, his diplomatic career has taken him to Yaoundé, Cameroon (2003-2005), Riga, Latvia (2005-2009) and Seoul, South Korea (2012-2016).

Best of luck in all of your endeavours here in Quebec and in the Atlantic Provinces, Mr. Levy.


Why can’t Montreal clear the snow?

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Van Horne congestion due to snowbanks and illegally parked car, on Feb. 12, 2018

Traffic continues to be snarled on Van Horne, west of Decarie, for more than two weeks.  The Borough of Cote des Neiges – NDG’s inability to clear the snowbank is baffling. No less than three types of ‘No Parking’ signs have come and gone yet the snow remains. The afternoon/evening rush hour on this route routinely sees a single lineup of vehicles backing up for blocks, into Decarie, sometimes all the way to Westbury. Is this because of incompetence or lack of resources?

Just a few blocks further the Town of Hampstead does a reasonable job of clearing nearly two full lanes, doubling the flow rate. And beyond that Cote Saint-Luc practically melts the snow from curb to curb.

The police routinely fail to enforce the No Parking restrictions on Van Horne (which I lobbied for several years ago). So even if the snowbank would be cleared illegally parked cars often obstruct the right lane (as photographed above at 5:20PM).

So what’s the problem in Montreal? We should be world leaders at clearing snow. Instead, we’re caught off guard by snow storms, can’t clear ice from sidewalks, our streets are riddled with potholes, and we needlessly waste time in traffic jams. Let’s hope the new administration figures this out quickly and get’s it right for next season. And ticket that car!

A tough commute in Montreal may eventually be a thing of the past

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On a morning where my  12 minute commute took over an hour I’m inspired to share this lecture from the Consumer Electronics Show going on in Las Vegas about Smart Cities. It speaks to the democratization of transportation whereby all vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians are linked to one another.

Congestion can be mitigated by connectivity and data sharing. The whole system needs to be made more intelligent. Cities need to get connected to new technology and use data to manage traffic flow and to improve citizens’ quality of life, local business, the environment and even public safety.
In this conference, Ford Motor Company’s President and CEO Jim Hackett focuses on mobility solutions as the world progresses toward smarter cities. Ford’s vision is to become the world’s most trusted mobility company, designing smart vehicles for a smart world.
I hope our friends and neighbours from the Cote des Neiges – NDG Borough Hall also take note about smarter cities and avoid blocking Van Horne for snow clearing during rush hour, resulting today in gridlock across Snowdon West, Hampstead and Cote Saint-Luc.
Speaking of Hampstead, please clear BOTH lanes on Fleet. 1.5 lanes of snow clearing doesn’t really help the flow.
And kudos to the CSL Public Works Department under the leadership of Director Bebe Newman. Bebe’s crews practically catch the snow before it hits the ground. You’d never know that 36 centimetres fell in CSL driving down its main streets today.

Our farmer is closer than you’d think

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Judy Hagshi and Jeremy Nashen at Lufa Farms rooftop nursery near Marché Central

Lufa Farms is an agricultural company located in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville neighborhood of Montreal. It is reputed to have built the world’s first commercial greenhouse on the roof of a building. The company’s first Montreal greenhouse began operations in early 2011.

Covering an area of 31,000 square feet, Lufa Farms produces vegetables year-round without synthetic pesticides, capturing rainwater, and recirculating irrigation water. The company delivers more than 10,000 baskets per week.

Lufa Farms rooftop nursery grows a wide variety of produce capturing and recycling rainwater and irrigating the plants through drip technology

Lufa Farms’ relies on a direct-to consumer business model, which minimizes the transport of food. Unlike traditional greenhouses, Lufa Farms recreates several microclimates to provide the quality and productivity of cultivars. According to the founder of Lufa Farms, Mohamed Hage, “If we were using the roofs of 19 shopping centres in Montreal, we could make the city self-sufficient.”

My family signed up to receive a weekly basket of fruit and vegetables four years ago through the Cote Saint-Luc Public Library. After a pause of a few years, my wife Judy, decided to rejoin a few weeks ago. Lufa Farms’ members are called “Lufavors”.

The happy Lufavors: Phyllis, Glenn, Nicole, Nathalie, Jeremy and Judy

We attended yesterday’s open house in their rooftop nursery near the Marché Central. My family took part in the study tour learning all about their operations and distribution system. Did you know that your average fruit and vegetable travels 2500 kilometres until it gets to you. The produce is cultivated long before you consume it and is transferred via refrigerated trucking, stored in refrigerated warehouses and is redistributed to your grocer before you ever see it on their shelves. By comparison, Lufa Farms picks your personalized order from the vine overnight and it’s generally in your kitchen within 12 hours!

Big, fresh and delicious


From vine to your kitchen in 12 hours!

An vibrant micro-economy has sprung out of this venture with small artisan producers partnering with Lufa to bring their products directly to its member’s table through the Lufa distribution network.

My wife and kids select our weekly basket online and we pick up our order at the library, just a short walk from home.

It couldn’t not be easier, fresher, more educational and interesting with new foods to explore all while we support our local producers right here in the Montreal area.






Traditional transport from the farm still on display


Nathalie and her ‘Bubs’ Phyllis getting ready for Halloween cooking






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Battle heats up in Côte Saint-Luc

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The race is heating up in Côte Saint-Luc with clashing personalities battling it out for mayor.

Incumbent Mitchell Brownstein is seeking a second term.

He’s being challenged by former mayor Robert Libman who is trying to get his old job back.


WATCH: The former mayor of Côte Saint-Luc has decided to run for re-election, but as Global’s Tim Sargeant reports, Robert Libman is a registered lobbyist. This has incumbent Mayor Mitchell Brownstein questioning his rival’s true interests.

Global News Report

Côte Saint-Luc mayoral candidate’s vow to extend Cavendish raises possible ethical concerns

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Robert Libman plays down lobbying work for Olymbec, company that stands to profit from proposed link

By Sarah Leavitt, CBC News Posted: Oct 05, 2017 7:30 PM ET

Robert Libman was mayor of Côte Saint-Luc between 1998 and 2005 and is now in the race to win back that post.

Robert Libman was mayor of Côte Saint-Luc between 1998 and 2005 and is now in the race to win back that post. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)



As a mayoral candidate for Côte Saint-Luc, Robert Libman is promising to “champion the Cavendish extension,” but as a registered lobbyist, he is also representing a real estate company with land in the area of the proposed link.

That may place him in a conflict of interest if he wins the election, according to one expert, who suggests Libman could be forced to recuse himself from decisions involving the long-planned extension of Cavendish Boulevard.

Libman is an architect and an urban planner.

According to Quebec’s Order of Architects, any architect who solicits governments, for instance, seeking building permits or zoning changes, must register as a lobbyist.

Libman denies his relationship with the real estate company, Olymbec, places him in a potential conflict of interest.

Incumbent mayor Mitchell Brownstein has sought to draw the media’s attention to those ties.

Olymbec owns two plots of land on the corner of Dalton Road and Cavendish Boulevard  north of the railyard that cuts the boulevard in two.

Filings with the Quebec Registry of Lobbyists indicate Libman stands to be paid less than $10,000 to lobby municipal officials for building permits allowing Olymbec to build on the land.

Olymbec plots on reserve

In June 2016, the City of Montreal put the two vacant lots, which cover nearly 17,000 square metres, on reserve, to prevent Olymbec from developing or expanding the properties while plans to extend Cavendish Boulevard are worked out.

In October 2016, the city’s executive committee approved a resolution to negotiate with Olymbec to buy one of the lots.

“It’s not even a conflict,” Libman told CBC News. “The City of Montreal reserved land in the corridor where the Cavendish extension is going to go.”

“The fact that Olymbec happens to own the land next to it, it doesn’t make a difference. I’ve pushed for the Cavendish extension since 2002. Nothing has changed there.”

Olymbec land

The land owned by Olymbec is within the area highlighted in red, an area which will be impacted by the Cavendish extension. (Google Maps)

Michel Nadeau, the executive director of HEC and Concordia University’s Institute for Governance and Public Policy, points to the Elections and Referendums Act for regulations concerning conflicts of interest.

Section 361 reads:

Every member of the council of a municipality who is present at a sitting when a matter in which he has a direct or indirect pecuniary interest is taken up for consideration shall disclose the general nature of his interest before discussions on the matter are begun and abstain from participating in the discussions and from voting or attempting to influence the vote on that matter.

Nadeau says those rules apply within the municipality to which the official belongs, but they also apply to interests involving other municipalities.

Public governance expert Michel Nadeau says for a candidate to be fully transparent, voters must be made aware of lobbying that candidate has done for any organization.

“As a mayor, you should work full-time for the voters or the citizens of your city. To vote, to take the interest of the citizens, this interest could be in conflict with the neighbouring cities,” Nadeau said.

“You should not have any financial, legal or contractual commitments with the neighbouring cities because of business activities.”

Libman says he is aware of the rules and has been in touch with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to go over issues of conflict of interest.

“If there’s ever an issue that might be perceived as a conflict, there are rules that govern conflict of interest, and I would recuse myself in any such case.”

Lobbying ‘miniscule part of my work,’ Libman says

However, Libman downplayed his lobbying work.

“I don’t lobby at all,” he said, before adding: “That’s a minuscule part of my work.”

“I’m an architect. Because I meet with cities, because I make a request for zoning changes or building permits, I have to be on the lobbyist register, like other architects are.”

But lobbying records show that Libman has six active lobbying mandates from Olymbec, including for the properties on Cavendish.

In five of those mandates, Libman was paid less than $10,000 in each instance.

Among those is a mandate in which he was to be paid less than $10,000 to lobby Côte Saint-Luc to place rental signs in a vacant property on Westminster Street.

In the sixth mandate, Libman is to be paid between $10,000 and $50,000 for lobbying on behalf of Olymbec’s interests in a massive redevelopment project in Montreal North.

Olymbec is owned by Derek and Richard Stern. Derek Stern helped organize Libman’s 2014-2015 campaign for the Conservative nomination in the federal riding of Mount Royal.

He won the nomination but lost the 2015 election to Liberal Anthony Housefather.

Robert Libman promises

In his list of campaign promises, Libman says he’ll work to ‘ensure the completion of the Cavendish extension,’ despite what could be a conflict of interest. (Robert Libman)

Transparency concerns

Libman, who was mayor of Côte Saint-Luc between 1998 and 2005, says he signed on to the lobbyist register in 2010 with the goal of full transparency.

Much of his work as a lobbyist involves approaching different cities and boroughs in attempts to change zoning designations, to seek permission for development or demolition or to request bylaw changes.

There are no laws directed specifically at lobbyists running as candidates for elected office, but Nadeau said it’s important they be fully transparent about their work.

“The electors should know this candidate is a lobbyist for any organization,” said Nadeau.

Libman does not mention his work as a lobbyist on his campaign website.

With files from Jonathan Montpetit

News video at 5:45

CSL candidates go at it on Global

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Côte St. Luc mayoral candidates Mitchell Brownstein and Robert Libman debated the issues last Thursday on Global TV’s Focus Montreal, hosted by Jamie Orchard.

Libman praised Côte St. Luc as an “incredible municipality.

“But I don’t believe we’ve achieved our full potential, we can do a lot better with the right leadership,” he added.

 Brownstein said that since he became mayor a year and a half ago, “I negotiated a deal with the City of Montreal whereby Côte St. Luc will be paying $4.8 million less for essential [island-wide agglomeration] services, reduced our debt by $4 million and we’re running a surplus of $1.9 million in 2016. I settled collective agreements with our three unions.”

The debate dealt with the most prominent issue in Côte St. Luc for the past 50 years — the long-awaited Cavendish Blvd. link with St. Laurent. Libman said he ended the longstanding impasse prompted by former Mayor Bernard Lang’s opposition.

“In 2000, I developed a consensus that I proposed to the Quebec Transport Ministry and the municipalities in the surrounding area were in agreement with us,” he said. “The City of Montreal created a project bureau with a $5 million budget at the time, public studies and environmental tests were prepared and ready to go for the extension to be completed in 2010, and 15 years later, it’s still not there. We need someone with an urban planning and architectural background that I have to really push this file forward.”

Brownstein said the ceding of the Hippodrome land from Quebec to Montreal last June for a housing development has a condition that the Cavendish extension “must go forward.

“It didn’t happen by itself. As soon as I was elected, I made a commitment I would push Cavendish forward, and I met with Montreal executive committee chairman Pierre Desrochers. We had a meeting with our MNA David Birnbaum, four ministers came, and all the five mayors — everyone was committed to moving it forward. I met with CP and CN for the first time together in my office. The result was that Minister Carlos Leitao announced with Mayor Denis Coderre that there will be an extension…”

“That was the biggest non-announcement,” Libman began, before both spoke over each other.

“If Robert [was going to] to move it forward, he would have been able to do it when he was on the Montreal [megacity] executive committee, but now he can’t do it at all,” Brownstein countered.

‘That’s when we announced it,” Libman responded. “The file was going to go ahead, and 15 years later it’s still sitting on the backburner.”

Brownstein then said Libman is a lobbyist for the development company Olymbec, “and there is a reserve on a piece of land owned by Olymbec that is required for the Cavendish extension. He will have to recuse himself from the whole debate!”

“This is so typical of this whole campaign,” Libman said. “All of the allegations, ridiculous comments…”

Orchard asked if the Olymbec land is under reserve, and if it is required for the extension.

“A piece of land owned by Olymbec has been reserved by the City of Montreal, but it doesn’t affect what I do…” Libman said.

“Would you have to recuse yourself from that debate?” Orchard asked.

“To be perfectly transparent, just to avoid any perceived conflict, perhaps I would, but it’s not even necessary, I’ve spoken with ministry officials about that,” Libman said.

Last week, Libman told The Suburban that while he is registered as a lobbyist, “I have no choice —every architect and urban planner that meets with city officials has to do that.”

At another debate at the Or Hahayim Synagogue Brownstein raised the issue of remerger as a “possible” threat. “The threat is not imminent,” he said, “But there have been Mayors who have told me that they’ve heard discussions of the possibility. I wouldn’t want to say more because I don’t want it to happen. I heard it at the municipal level. Certain people at the municipal level would like that to happen.” Brownstein declined to reveal further details.

Libman said Brownstein’s contention is a “scare tactic. “I have tried over and over again to bring issues to the fore that affect Côte St. Luc residents going forward regarding taxation, urban planning challenges, infrastructure and roads, transparency and creative programs for our city and he hasn’t advanced a single idea,” the candidate said. “All he does is try to spin the 15-year-old demerger tale and shy away from the real issues.”

Watch the debate here.

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