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

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.

Cavendish underpass southbound re-opens September 15

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After more than two months of orange barrels blocking the construction zone at the Cavendish underpass a little relief is hours away as the city gets ready to reopen all lanes and the walkway in the southbound direction.

This is the first major renovation to the underpass structure since it was built over 50 years ago, when Cavendish was actually known as King George Boulevard. More than $2.7 million was spent in upgrading this critical infrastructure, much of it through provincial grants.

 

 

Work will continue on the northbound lanes and will completed soon. Thanks to the presence of a flagman the traffic flow has been improved in the construction zone with few delays reported. Safety has been increased as well.

Pedestrian safety was a major priority and I would like to thank our incredible volunteers from vCOP – Citizens on Patrol – for heeding my call to be present at Fleet and Cavendish during the morning rush hour and afternoons when school children are on their way home.

New walkway gets finishing touches for re-opening this week at the Cavendish underpass

Berku slams STM response to bus stop request

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Launch of the 262 Golden Shuttle in CSL, Oct. 2010. L-R: Charles Senekal, Manager, CSL Engineering, Beverly Akerman, Past President, CSL Senior Social Centre, Sidney Margles, President, CSL Senior Mens Club, Cllr. Michel Labreque, President, MTC/STM, Cllr. Dida Berku, Cllr. Allan Levine, Cllr. Glenn J. Nashen, Tanya Abramovitch, CSL City Manager

Côte St. Luc Councillor Dida Berku criticized the Montreal bus authority for declining to add an additional bus stop on the 262 Or (golden) shuttle, which travels from Côte St. Luc’s Mackle Road to Carrefour Angrignon in LaSalle.

Seniors generally use the shuttle.

Berku said residents of St. Patrick Square, in her district, started a petition to get an extra stop, near the Wal-Mart store in a power mall area across the street from Carrefour Angrignon. The shuttle also goes to Quartier Cavendish, the Côte St. Luc Shopping Centre and the commercial area of Montreal West.

“The residents sent the petition, Charles Senekal from our Engineering Department has been talking with the STM for a couple of years on this subject, simply to add the one bus stop,” Berku explained. “The bus driver understood this. It’s far for the residents to walk from Angrignon to Wal-Mart, and back.”

Golden Shuttle 262

 

The STM responded last month that the authority is reflecting on the issue, and cannot add the one stop at this point.

“They will advise us when they do further studies,” the councillor said. “I want to publicly denounce the STM for what I consider to be an extremely bureaucratic and very narrow approach to the problem, as we’re trying very hard to just provide good service to our seniors.

“Extending the 262 by one stop would not be such a great demand. We will continue to lobby the STM and do everything possible to get this extra stop.”

CP negative on CSL yards residential development

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Canadian Pacific responded negatively to a study released by students from McGill’s School of Urban Planning on the potential for a residential development in the Canadian Pacific railyards in Côte St. Luc, should CP ever vacate the land.

That land is where a Cavendish Blvd link would partially be located. The study was commissioned by the Coalition for the Relocation of St. Luc Rail Yards, among whose members is Côte St. Luc mayoral candidate Robert Libman. The feasibility report was presented to Côte St. Luc council, who forwarded it to CP.

During the August council meeting, Mayor Mitchell Brownstein made public a letter to him by Tony Marquis, CP’s senior vice-president, Operations East Region.

Marquis wrote that the St. Luc Yard in Côte St. Luc is a “critical component” of its rail network.

“The McGill student report… is not a feasibility study on a proposed relocation of CP’s St. Luc Yard, but rather a study of a possible alternative urban plan for the land presently occupied by the yard,” Marquis wrote. “The study offers no serious analysis of the numerous and complex factors associated with railway operations, rail capacity needs present and future, or the strategic location of the St. Luc Yard for CP as well as the larger national network.”

Marquis wrote that right now, there is no “business rationale to support CP relocating this yard to another site.”

Brownstein commented that he has a positive relationship with CP, and Marquis in particular and that the CP official himself had brought up the possibility of the yards moving to Les Cedres, west of Montreal.

“It’s not easy to do, but if we work and put our minds together and work in a collaborative fashion, it could perhaps one day be achieved,” the mayor said.

“Honey does more than vinegar, so the relationship I’ve built with CP allows us to work closely and find solutions,” the mayor added.

Libman told The Suburban he has a copy of the letter from Marquis.

“When I was mayor, I worked very closely with CP on reducing some of the irritants emanating from the rail yards,” the candidate said. “But in 2017, from an urban planning point of view, from an economic point of view, it is completely illogical that these yards, located at the geographic epicentre of the island of Montreal, occupying over 22 million square feet of extremely valuable land, should remain where they are, stifling the potential of the city. Occupying one-third of Côte St. Luc territory, it also impacts our residents as far as noise and access is concerned, and poses a potential security risk.”

Brownstein replied that the CP letter speaks for itself and that Marquis reiterated his points at a meeting the two had Aug. 13.

“He reiterated that the only stakeholder that would help move this matter forward would be a serious developer with the financial capacity to deal with such a large project,” the mayor told The Suburban. “The letter is very clear as to the relocation feasibility studies that would then be required.”

Potential new location found for CSL synagogue

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A potential new location has been found for the Fondation Sepharade Kollel Avrechim synagogue in Côte St. Luc, on the site of the city’s public works yard on Mackle Road, Mayor Mitchell Brownstein announced.

“There’s a very large parking lot, and it’s the area closest to the dog run in that parking lot,” Brownstein told The Suburban. “The parking lot has about 80 to 100 spots, and it’s at the far end.”

The mayor said the city and the synagogue are now in the preliminary stage of looking at the alternative locale.

“I met with Rabbi Yehouda Benoliol and his group, and we gave them the size and configuration, and Urban Planning has given them the configuration documents in terms of what they can work with, and now they have to present a proposal to the Planning Advisory Committee.”

During the July 4 council meeting, several residents asked about the synagogue, in light of a recent register which 23 residents signed, calling for a referendum on a rezoning for the original location elsewhere on Mackle Road.

Seventeen signatures were needed to prompt a referendum. But as the result would be clear — enough to reject the original location — and a referendum would be costly, no vote will be held.

As a result, Côte St. Luc council withdrew the original rezoning bylaw at last week’s meeting, with seven councillors approving and Councillor Dida Berku abstaining because she is a lawyer in a case, unrelated to the zoning, involving Rabbi Yehouda Benoliol.

At a previous meeting, Brownstein said the community would work together to find a new location for the synagogue.

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