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.

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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

Suburban exclusive: Remerger threat still exists: CSL mayor

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Suburban exclusive: Remerger threat still exists: CSL mayor
CSL council candidates watch the proceedings at Or Hahayim Synagogue.

An underlying threat still exists that could see demerged municipalities again merged into the Montreal megacity, as took place between 2002 and 2005, says Côte St. Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein.

Residents in municipalities like Côte St. Luc, Hampstead, Montreal West and Westmount voted to demerge in 2004.

“There is still, and always, a threat of remerger, there is always that threat,” Brownstein told an election event at the Or Hahayim Synagogue. “It’s still spoken about at the higher levels, and there are those who believe we would be better off as part of the City of Montreal. So if you want a mayor who, I guarantee you, will fight to keep us independent no matter what, vote for me.”

Brownstein made the statement during a mostly French-language election event Sept. 26. Also on hand were mayoral candidate Robert Libman and nearly all of the candidates for council seats. Demerger was a central topic of the evening. Brownstein was a demerger leader and Libman opposed demerging because of the conditions involved in Quebec’s Bill 9, which he said would not give municipalities sufficient powers and independence

Later, The Suburban asked Brownstein for more details on his contention.

“The threat is not imminent,” the Mayor 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 haven’t heard it from the provincial level. I heard it at the municipal level. Certain people at the municipal level would like that to happen, and I guess they would have to go to the province to push it forward.”

Brownstein declined to reveal further details.

Asked about the issue, Libman said all he heard was from going door-to-door, that Brownstein “told them I want to re-merge Côte St. Luc with Montreal, which is completely false.”

“I never said that,” Brownstein countered.

We also asked Councillor Dida Berku what she has heard.

“There’s kind of a movement at the City of Montreal with regard to centralization of power,” she said. “Mayor Coderre centralized a lot of power with regard to snowclearing. I don’t feel it in terms of remerger. But the mayors are nervous about it, yes — maybe they have information… Who knows? If the PQ came back to power, we don’t know what would happen.”

The election event as a whole was feisty, especially when audience members asked questions — it was akin to an in-person version of the frequently fractious debates on the Let’s Chat CSL Facebook page. Accusations ranged from cyberbullying to overlong vacations to opportunism.

Moderator Charles Barchechath moderated the event with strictness and humour, keeping council candidate statements to two minutes and audience involvement to questions on local issues.

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In my opinion:

The possibility of remerging with Montreal is a very scary thought. Cote Saint-Lucers don’t want it. 90% voted to leave Montreal Mega-City. Why would we risk returning to this position that would weaken our glorious city?

Want to ensure that we stay the great suburban city that we are today? Want to have complete confidence that your elected representatives stay the course and speak out loudly and keep their promises on this thorny issue? Vote Mitchell Brownstein for Mayor and Glenn J. Nashen for City Councillor of District 6.

Trusted Leadership and Proven Experience.

Judge rejects developer’s lawsuit against Montreal over Meadowbrook

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Developer accused city of “disguised expropriation”

A Superior Court Judge has rejected a $44-million lawsuit against the city of Montreal over a proposed housing development on the Lachine side of the Meadowbrook Golf Course that failed to materialize.

In a 45-page judgement rendered Wednesday, Judge Pepita G. Capriolo ruled the city had not engaged in a “disguised expropriation,” as land owner Groupe Pacific alleged, nor was the city responsible for $15.5 million in potential profits the developer argued it could have made.

“The large number of difficulties that the developer faced before being able to start the project (negotiations with municipalities next to the site, with the city of Montreal, with Canadian Pacific and the suburban train authority AMT, the Ministry of the Environment, etc.) does not support the conclusion that only the actions of the city kept the developer from realizing the profits it had calculated,” the judge wrote.

Real-estate developer Groupe Pacific charged that the city used high infrastructure costs as an excuse to block construction of its project in order to preserve the golf course as a green space following citizen protests.

Groupe Pacific was demanding $28.5 million for the value of the land, and another $15 million for lost potential profits.

Meadowbrook Groupe Pacific, a subsidiary of Groupe Pacific, bought the land in 2006 for $3 million, and later presented a plan to build a pedestrian-friendly and environmentally responsible, 1600-unit residential complex dubbed Petite Rivière.

The city argued estimates of the infrastructure costs it would have had to shoulder to put in water and sewage pipes and a railway overpass ranged from $60 million to $150 million, costs that it would have taken at least 43 years to recoup in taxes. In 2010 it told Groupe Pacific it would not support development there because of the infrastructure bill, although it did not share its cost estimates with the developer.

“The judge got it right,” said Alan DeSousa, who was the executive committee member responsible for environmental issues for the city of Montreal in 2010. “It shows that cities do have the right and the ability to protect their environments.”

Côte-St-Luc councillor Dida Berku said the lawsuit is “very promising” for their municipality, which is the target of a $32-million lawsuit by Groupe Pacific that dates back to 2001.

In her judgment, Capriolo ruled Groupe Pacific had failed to prove the city had acted in bad faith, and noted that the city had not appropriated the land, which an evaluator has valued at $6.5 million. Under the city’s new land development management plan, Groupe Pacific is still free to operate it as a golf course or for other recreational purposes, she wrote. Groupe Pacific has the right to appeal the decision.

rbruemmer@postmedia.com

twitter.com/renebruemmer

Meadowbrook judgment ‘bodes well for CSL’

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The Superior Court judgment favouring Montreal against the developer of the Meadowbrook Golf Course, Meadowbrook Groupe Pacific, bodes well for Côte St. Luc in its own legal case with the developer, say Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, Councillor Dida Berku and mayoral candidate Robert Libman.

Groupe Pacific had sued Montreal for $44 million over the borough of Lachine’s refusal to allow residential building on its part of the site, which the borough attributed to high infrastructure costs. The other part of the site is in Côte St. Luc.

According to media reports, Judge Pepita G. Capriolo rejected Groupe Pacific’s contention that Montreal engaged in a disguised expropriation, and that the city was responsible for the developer losing $15.5 million in profits. Also according to reports, the judge ruled that many other factors prevented the development on the Lachine side.

 In the case of Côte St. Luc, the city was originally sued by the developer in 2000, when the city changed the zoning of its part of the golf course site from residential to recreational and commercial. The original lawsuit lay dormant for years, until Groupe Pacific changed its lawsuit to claim $32 million — $19 million of which was to force the city to basically buy the part of the land in its territory — a land swap: and $13 million for loss of profits.

As we reported in 2015, “the Quebec Superior Court did not allow the company to pursue the $19 million claim.”

Late in 2015, Groupe Pacific wanted to amend its lawsuit, to claim another $20 million. The developer wanted the Quebec Court of Appeal to state its opinion on the merits of such a re-amendment to the Quebec Superior Court. But the Court of Appeal ruled that it cannot decide on this in advance and that the Superior Court would have to decide if Groupe Pacific can reamend its claim. That is where the case with Côte St. Luc stands at this point.

Brownstein was pleased with last week’s judgement.

“The judgment in favour of Montreal is very promising for Côte St. Luc, because it essentially affirms what we have been arguing for years,” the Mayor said. “While there is still a case pending since [2000] against Côte St. Luc, this related decision validates many of our arguments.”

Berku, who has been defending the right of the city to maintain Meadowbrook for recreational use, said the decision is a “great victory for the right of cities to determine the best land use in the public interest. Montreal had the right to refuse to invest hundreds of millions in infrastructure, especially because all details of the project were not finalized.”

The councilllor added that the judge “decided that golf is a reasonable use, especially in light of the new urban plan adopted by the Montreal agglomeration in 2015, which designated all of Meadowbrook as green space for recreational use.

Libman, during a press conference Friday, was also very pleased. The zoning change from residential to recreational took place when he was Mayor of Côte St. Luc.

“It’s certainly very positive for Côte St. Luc — we were all waiting to see what the judgment would be on the Lachine side,” the mayoral candidate said. “I was going to be examined by the lawyers over the next few months. Now that there’s a precedent defeating the lawsuit against Lachine (Montreal), it certainly looks as though the lawsuit against Côte St. Luc for about $20 million will be dismissed, which is great news for our taxpayers and residents.”

Groupe Pacific has the option to appeal the latest judgment.

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In my opinion:
Fantastic news for Cote Saint-Luc. I have always been an enthusiastic and outspoken opponent of developing Meadowbrook. Just check out the very many posts on my blog for the history on this file. As City Councillor I will continue to fight to preserve this invaluable greenspace for future generations. I would be thrilled to have this space acquired by the Montreal Agglomeration to be shared by all across the West End as a regional park.

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.”

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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

No plans for new CSL auditorium: Brownstein

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No plans for new CSL auditorium: Brownstein

A performance of the Côte St. Luc Dramatic Society’s production of Hairspray.

There are no plans for Côte St. Luc to proceed with a city hall project that would have included a new state-of-the-art theatre-style auditorium, Mayor Mitchell Brownstein told The Suburban.

“We have no plans to move the project forward in the future,” the Mayor said Friday.

Last week, The Suburban reported that demerged Montreal municipalities were left out of this round of federal-provincial grants for communities, while numerous off-island municipalities did receive sizeable grants. The grants are decided on by the Quebec government. This was revealed by Montreal West Mayor Beny Masella.

Grants were denied for a new recreation centre in Montreal West and the Côte St. Luc project in this round of funding.

“We will definitely keep on top of all government announcements to ensure we are first in line to submit a funding request when a new program opens,” Masella told the late August town council meeting.

The Côte St. Luc project, Brownstein explained last week, was for “an extension to the city hall complex which would have added a theatre-style auditorium and other community spaces for programming and offices.

“The grant opportunity between federal and provincial was up to 90 percent and the other 10 percent would have been raised through private sponsorship and savings regarding the plaza renovation required in front of city hall which is estimated to cost around $1.5 million and will need to be done in the not too distant future,” the Côte St. Luc Mayor added last week. “The plaza renovation was part of the grant application.”

In the meantime, Côte St. Luc mayoral candidate Robert Libman reacted to last week’s Suburban story about the grant refusals, saying residents cannot afford to build and support an $11-$15 million theatre.

“The city’s three year capital works budget (PTI) identifies $11 million for the project —complicated projects of this nature always go over budget,” Libman said. “The sitting Mayor is a producer and actor in the CSL Dramatic Society (CSLDS) productions, so I understand that he is enticed by the project.”

Libman also contended that the current Harold Greenspon Auditorium at city hall is adequate, and the English Montreal School Board’s Wagar Auditorium can also be used —it was for the CSLDS’s Fiddler on the Roof. The candidate also called on the city administration to “confirm that the $11 million in funds allocated in the Capital Works Budget will not be used for this purpose now that the grant has been refused.”

Brownstein replied that, indeed, “now that the grant application was refused, the three-year capital expense and associated grant revenue projections have been removed from our capital plans.”

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