Not ruling out law on riding change criteria: Couillard

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Not ruling out law on riding change criteria: Couillard

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard spoke Friday to a full audience of the Côte St. Luc Men’s Club at that city’s Aquatic and Community Centre.

The Premier spoke and answered questions about various issues, including health care, court case delays and seniors issues. He was also asked about the planned provincial riding changes for the next election, including the elimination of the Mont Royal riding as part of a merger with the Outremont riding, and the expansion of the D’Arcy McGee riding eastward.

Local politicians and activists have argued these changes violate the Election Commission’s own guidelines that ridings’ “natural communities” should be respected. Local ethnic communities say they will be split between ridings.

A citizens committee, chaired by Suburban editor-in-chief Beryl Wajsman and former NDG-Lachine MP Marlene Jennings, has hired constitutional lawyer Julius Grey to handle the legal case. Wajsman has been spearheading the fundraising effort for the legal case having raised over $6,000 in crowd funding. He took the opportunity to inform the Premier that the legal challenge will be filed in court before the end of the month.

Couillard told the gathering that the riding issue is not restricted to Montreal, but also affects the Mauricie where two ridings are also set to merge.

“People are not very happy there — it’s not related to language, it’s related to representation [in that area] on a very large territory,” the Premier said.

Couillard explained that it was decided years ago to enable the independent, non-partisan Quebec Electoral Commission to decide on riding changes “to remove petty politics and partisanship from the issue.

“The only way for us to act on [riding changes considered to be unjust] is to change the criteria on which the commission bases itself to make decisions, and for this we need to change electoral law.

“I’m not ruling this out. We’re going to have significant discussions. I know legal recourse has been tabled by the community here on this, and people should exercise their rights. That’s something that should be done.”

Couillard said he is concerned about representation by number.

“On the island of Montreal, the issue is numbers, because you say ‘why is our vote less important, apparently at least than in other parts of Quebec with a smaller population?’”

The Premier said he is also worried about the quality of representation, in relation to the rural ridings, because of their massive size distance-wise.

“We have MNAs who have to literally drive for full days and they don’t even see the whole of their community.”

Numerous dignitaries attended Friday’s speech. Couillard was introduced by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum and thanked by Côte St. Luc mayor Mitchell Brownstein, and other attendees included Israeli Consul-General Ziv Nevo Kulman, Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather and his chief of staff Bonnie Feigenbaum, Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg, and other MNAs — including Mont Royal’s Pierre Arcand — and Côte St. Luc council members, amongst many others.

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CSL City Council supports legal contestation of D’Arcy McGee boundary changes

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Cote Saint-Luc City Council adopted a resolution to support the legal challenge of the electoral divisions of Québec seeking that the electoral map maintain the current divisions of Mount-Royal, Outremont and D’Arcy McGee ridings.

On March 2, 2017, the Quebec Electoral Commission published the final version of the electoral map which substantially altered the boundaries of the electoral riding of D’Arcy-McGee and seriously undermines public confidence in the objectivity and independence of the Commission. The electoral riding of D’Arcy-McGee will have around 56,000 voters, making it one of the most populous constituencies in Quebec and will, therefore, seriously dilute the political weight of the residents of the City of Côte Saint-Luc.

The Commission also decided to merge the electoral divisions of Mount Royal and Outremont. All of these changes will result in the loss of an electoral riding on the Island of Montréal and dilute the political weight of all the residents living on the Island.

Other affected municipalities such as the Town of Mount Royal and the Town of Hampstead have already agreed to financially contribute to a legal contestation being filed by Me Julius Grey.

It is in the interest of the residents of the City of Côte Saint-Luc to oppose the decision and to financially contribute to its legal contestation. Therefore the City agreed to support the legal challenge and authorized an expenditure of $7,000 to this challenge. Additionally, the City will match up to $3,000 from contributions of its residents.

Residents interested in supporting the challenge can make their cheques payable to Julius Grey, In Trust, and drop off or mail to the City of Cote Saint-Luc, 5801 Cavendish Blvd., CSL, QC  H4W 2C2.

Elimination of Mount Royal perversely penalizes communities, A letter by Anthony Housefather, M.P.

 

Elimination of Mont-Royal perversely penalizes natural communities

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By: Anthony Housefather, M.P. for Mount-Royal

Published in The Suburban, Mar 22, 2017
I want to express my gratitude to the Cote Des Neiges/NDG Borough Council, the Cote Saint-Luc City Council, The Town of Mount Royal town council and the Hampstead town council for their leadership on this important issue opposing the proposed electoral map changes. I join with them and our MNAs Pierre Arcand and David Birnbaum on a matter that negatively impacts the population I represent at the federal level as well as other minority communities in Quebec.

The Director General of Elections has produced a map that unfairly penalizes everyone living on the island of Montreal by eliminating a riding on the island while preserving rural ridings with much smaller populations. This means that a vote on the island is worth less than a vote in other parts of the province. The situation is exacerbated by the choice of ridings they are eliminating. The decision to eliminate the provincial riding of Mont-Royal effectively makes the most diverse riding in the province disappear. Its merger with Outremont creates a riding of almost 57,000 voters, approximately twice the population of the smallest rural riding. More importantly it disproportionately and negatively impacts English speaking cultural communities including but not limited to the Filipino and Bangladeshi communities who wielded important influence in Mont-Royal and now are split between D’Arcy McGee and the newly created Mont-Royal/Outremont riding. Perversely the size of the territory added to D’Arcy McGee now also makes that riding one of the most heavily populated ridings in the province and negatively impacts the Jewish community and the entire English speaking community whose voices are diluted by the added territory. This is not even to address the unfair split of the Hassidic community between the new Mont-Royal-Outremont and Mercier ridings and the unfair split of the Greek community in Laval.
Why natural communities, especially minority language and cultural communities were so disregarded in the new map proposed by the Quebec Director General of Elections is puzzling and somewhat shocking and I want to join my voice to those of my own constituents and others who are denouncing this in the strongest terms. As there appears to be no means other than a court challenge to undo the perverse and negative effects of the electoral map I want to congratulate Beryl Wajsman the editor of the Suburban newspaper who has been raising funds for such a challenge. I pledge to make a personal financial contribution to any such challenge and ask those who can afford to do so to join me in doing so. Our voices are not lost if we join together to fight.

Anthony Housefather,MP

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Thank you to our ever-present Member of Parliament for taking a strong position and effectively communicating (as he always does) right across the region.

Municipal leaders band together to fight Quebec Electoral Representation Commission’s senseless decision

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Municipal leaders band together to fight Quebec Electoral Representation Commission’s senseless decision

By Councillor Mike Cohen | 23 Mar 2017

As a city councillor in Côte Saint-Luc, I always appreciate opportunities to work together with other elected officials in neighbouring municipalities. Such was the case on March 21 when the borough of Côte des Neiges-NDG spearheaded an energizing public meeting at their Community Centre to protest the senseless decision arrived by the Quebec Electoral Representation Commission. This unelected body, which answers to absolutely nobody, inexplicably reversed its February 7, 2017 second report on the electoral map that proposed to maintain the Mont Royal, Outremont and D’Arcy McGee ridings without any change. When the next provincial election takes place in October 2018, Mont Royal and Outremont will be merged and D’Arcy McGee unnecessarily larger in size.

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Dida Berku and Ruth Kovac join other political leaders at the event.

Snowdon Councillor Marvin Rotrand and Suburban Newspaper editor Beryl Wajsman led the charge, first with a press conference and then with this impressive public meeting. Rotrand was joined at the head table by Borough Mayor Russell Copeman, Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg, TMR Councillor Erin Kennedy (representing Mayor Philippe Roy), CSL Councillor Ruth Kovac (representing Mayor Mitchell Brownstein) and Outremont Councillor Mindy Pollak (representing Mayor Marie Cinq Mars) English Montreal School Board Chairman Angela Mancini spoke, with Vice Chair Sylvia Lo Bianco, Commissioner Julien Feldman and Parent Commissioner Joanne Charron in attendance. Allan J. Levine, Dida Berku and I were the other CSL councillors on hand. I saw several of my constituents.

If the Electoral Map had been adopted by Members of the National Assembly, I am certain that the passion and clear facts set out at this meeting would have resulted in an about face. Regrettably, there is nothing elected officials seem to be able to do. In fact, Mont Royal and Outremont are represented by cabinet ministers Pierre Arcand and Helene David. One of them will have to find a new place to run or retire.
I spoke to lawyer Peter Villani after the meeting and we both agreed that the Electoral Representation Commission still has an opportunity to correct this terrible wrong, admit it made a mistake and allow the status quo to prevail.

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It was standing room only at the event.

The room was packed, something which elated fireball Rotrand. “The large attendance we witnessed speaks to the public interest in opposing the loss of representation that our communities will suffer if the map decreed by the Electoral Representation Commission stands,” he said. “The meeting essentially came together in a very short time so I believe the turnout reflects a broad consensus in our part of the island.”
Now unless the Commission shows some class, this decision will have to be fought in court and initiated by citizens. Ideally, an injunction can be sought. Wajsman has taken the lead by collecting funds for an eventual contestation and former NDG-Lachine Liberal Member of Parliament Marlene Jennings stepped forward to set up a blue ribbon panel. Jennings was chosen by the Quebec English School Boards Association to do the same when the provincial government tried to push through Bill 86 – aimed at abolishing elected school commissioners. The government backed off and they did so because they answer to the public; the Electoral Representation Commission simply marches to the beat of its own drum.

Each of the boroughs and municipal councils in the area has or will soon adopt a motion in opposition to the electoral map. All feel that the Commission’s map will mean a serious loss of representation for their citizens, lacks respect for natural communities and does not provide the effective representation that the electoral law indicates must be the basis of any final decision.
The mayors have shared a legal decision written last September by Jean-François Gaudreault-DesBiens, Dean of the University of Montreal Law School, which indicated that the Commission’s proposal of 2015 to merge Mont Royal and Outremont and change D’Arcy McGee was highly questionable. As the Commission’s final decision has reverted to the 2015 plan, the mayors feel the Commission’s proposal will not stand up to a legal challenge.
“We are strongly concerned about the diminished political weight of the island of Montreal,” said Copeman, a former Liberal MNA for NDG. “Our political weight has been reduced in every riding redistribution since 1992 which merged Westmount and Saint-Louis. We have lost four ridings over the decades.
“The merger of Mont-Royal and Outremont creates a very large riding which is expected to see robust demographic growth over the next five years which we anticipate will take it over the legal maximum number of voters allowed by the electoral law.”
The Commission proposes to maintain 125 electoral ridings in the National Assembly with the average number of voters being 48,952 per riding. The electoral law allows ridings to be as much as 25 percent more or less than the average, a maximum of 61,190 or a minimum of 36,714 voters. This legal disparity of up to 24,476 voters or up to a 69 percent legal difference of voters per riding gives some voters in Quebec far more power than others.
While the mayors believe such a disparity in number of voters per riding should only be allowed in the rarest cases, there are many examples in the map of small ridings in the 37,000 to 40,000 range while many others approach the upper limits. Ridings like Duplessis, Dubuc, Rousseau, Megantic and Nicolet-Betancour all have far fewer voters than Montreal ridings such as Nelligan, Saint Laurent, Robert Baldwin or the new D’Arcy McGee or merged Mont Royal – Outremont which have between 55,000 and 59,000 voters each.
“Worse of all is that the Commission proposes six ridings that are exceptions to the law beyond the Iles de la Madeleine, the only exception the law actually permits,” says Mayor Brownstein. “These ridings including Abitibi-Est, Abitibi Ouest, Bonaventure, Gaspe, René Levesque and Ungava have between 26.8 and 44 percent fewer voters than the electoral map average and are below the legal minimum of voters. How do we explain to voters that D’Arcy McGee will now have boundaries that will no longer resemble its historic territory and have 56,245 voters while Gaspe, a riding that will have fewer voters in 2018 than at the 2014 elections, will have a Member of the National Assembly with only 30,048 electors?”
The mayors note that the new map cuts the large Filipino community that had real clout in Mont Royal in half with a large part of the community residing west of Côte des Neiges Road shifted to D’Arcy McGee. The large Orthodox Jewish community in the former Outremont riding is also diluted with those living east of Hutchinson moved into Mercier.

Councillor Kovac presented a strong statement from Mayor Brownstein at the public meeting. Natural communities should be kept together in order to give minority groups a stronger voice,” she said. And yet helping natural communities is not what has happened in the commission’s report. We have the worst of both worlds – they are removing representation from the island of Montreal, making ridings bigger, and breaking apart natural communities. Maybe we don’t need the exact same strict equality rules as they have in the United States. But can we at least apply the same fairness as they have Macedonia, or Yemen, or Belarus?
“When you increase the size of a riding like D’Arcy McGee, you weaken the voice of its natural communities. Allophones, Anglophones, Italian, Filipino, Jewish communities and others will no longer have as strong representation as they did when the riding of D’Arcy McGee was of a reasonable size. Further Mount Royal brought one more vote to the National Assembly for these communities and other minority communities. As the largest city in Quebec continues to grow its voice should not be weakened. It’s up to Quebecers to raise our voices, open their wallets, and help challenge in court decisions that hurt our community. I sincerely hope the Commission reverses its decision without the need for a legal challenge.”

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I agree completely with my esteemed colleague and friend Cllr. Mike Cohen in this excellent resume of this past week’s meeting over local electoral reform. We must not remain silent in the face of this injustice to our linguistic and cultural communities. Thank you to our local elected officials for speaking up on our behalf, spearheaded by Cllr. Marvin Rotrand and supported by editor Beryl Wajsman.

Birnbaum calls for cancellation of proposed modifications to D’Arcy-McGee, surrounding ridings

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Changes to electoral map would compromise rights of English-speaking, Jewish communities

David Birnbaum, MNA for D'Arcy McGee

David Birnbaum, MNA for D’Arcy McGee

 

David Birnbaum, MNA for D’Arcy-McGee, argued before the Commission de l’Assemblée nationale today that proposed changes to Québec’s electoral map would compromise the democratic rights of three ‘natural communities’ within the riding – English-speaking, Jewish and senior citizens – by diluting their numbers within new riding borders.

“The changes being proposed would have a pronounced and negative impact on the riding of D’Arcy-McGee,” Birnbaum noted. “I am very proud to be the MNA for all D’Arcy-McGee residents, for those of all languages, all religions and all ages. But I am equally proud to be the sole MNA from Québec’s Jewish community and keenly aware of the additional and solemn responsibility imposed upon me by that reality. And, I am respectful and proud of my obligation to give voice to the majority English-speaking community as well as the particular and pressing concerns of the thousands of senior citizens who form a natural community in D’Arcy-McGee.”

The wide-ranging proposal from the Commission de la représentation électorale would extend D’Arcy-McGee’s borders to include all of Snowdon district as well as roughly one-third of Côte-des-Neiges district. It would add 14,000 voters to the riding. The proportion of Jewish residents in those additional areas is only one-third of that in D’Arcy-McGee as it stands; the proportion of English-speaking residents only one-half.

Birnbaum referred frequently to a legal opinion on the changes submitted to the Commission de l’Assemblée nationale by Université de Montréal Law professor Jean-François Gaudreault-DesBiens. That opinion suggests that many of the changes proposed could be unconstitutional in that they compromise the principle of effective representation and could have the effect of limiting the democratic representation of minority communities. Birnbaum also called for the reversal of the proposed merging of neighboring Mont-Royal and Outremont ridings, for similar reasons.

He concluded the presentation by listing the guiding principles for electoral change. “Adherence to these principles should be clear in each of the Commission’s proposed changes:

  • Voter confidence: is the voter’s understanding of the electoral map, identification to the riding and access to the right to vote reinforced or strengthened by these changes?
  • Is the equitable weight of each vote protected by the change?
  • Have the caution and judgment prescribed by the Canadian and Québec Charters of Rights and Freedoms and the extensive jurisprudence been duly respected by these changes?

“With all due respect,” Birnbaum told Commission President François Ouimet, “the answer to these three questions is ‘no’.”

Following a five-day debate in the National Assembly, a final version of the electoral map will be issued in February 2017 and implemented immediately. Birnbaum expressed cautious optimism that the modifications to D’Arcy-McGee and surrounding ridings would be reversed. He was one of 37 Liberal MNAs to appear before the Commission.

Birnbaum hosts Finance Minister

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Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, Cllr. Allan J. Levine, MNA David Birnbaum, Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, Cllr. Dida Berku, Cllr. Ruth Kovac, Cllr. Glenn J. Nashen

Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, Cllr. Allan J. Levine, MNA David Birnbaum, Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, Cllr. Dida Berku, Cllr. Ruth Kovac, Cllr. Glenn J. Nashen

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitão was the guest speaker at a reception hosted by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum earlier this week. The event, a Liberal Party gathering, was held at Ecole de la Mosaique on McMurray Ave in Cote Saint-Luc. For decades the building housed the PSBGM’s Westminster School. A new, government funded wing was the locale for the get-together.

Leitao stressed that despite being labeled with the negative term of “Austerity” what the Liberal government has been doing in repairing the economy is far from austere. “Austerity is what is going on in Greece and Spain,” the minister said, indicating that the term refers to reduced government spending. “What we are doing in Quebec is ensuring that we don’t spend more than we have.”

The minister cited the recent rating by Standard and Poors. Despite having the highest ratio of debt to GDP, at nearly 55%, and the highest taxes on the continent, Quebec had its ratings improve for three reasons, the minister said.

First we have strong control of spending. Second we have excellent professional management of our finance department, the best staff anywhere in North America. And third, the economy is doing very well, Leitao said.

David Birnbaum, greeted the assembly as his friends, family and supporters, expressing appreciation for the confidence and trust placed in him. In his usual eloquent and soft-spoken style he welcomed the minister to the riding.

D'Arcy McGee Chief of Staff, Elisabeth Prass, Glenn J. Nashen, Ruth Kovac

D’Arcy McGee Chief of Staff, Elisabeth Prass, Glenn J. Nashen, Ruth Kovac

Leitao described Birnbaum, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Education, as being tenacious in keeping the cabinet focused and on track.

Cote Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein along with Councillors Ruth Kovac, Allan J. Levine, Mike Cohen and I were in attendance along with Liberal riding president Orna Hillberger, CSL Men’s Club President Syd Kronish, past president Sidney Margles, and several more community leaders and supporters.

The mayor pressed the minister to act now on the Cavendish extension. This long anticipated project has become a top priority for council as all levels of government have come onside. 

Birnbaum assured us that he is listening to his constituency and that our voice is being heard in Quebec City. The constituency office is expertly managed by Chief of Staff Elisabeth Prass, Chris Savard and Fran Guttman.

Premier Couillard speaks to D’Arcy McGee residents in MNA David Birnbaum’s video

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Birnbaum Couillard 2016-03

The progressive and innovative Member of the National Assembly for D’Arcy McGee, David Birnbaum, has launched an impressive short video destined specifically for the residents of the riding encompassing Cote Saint-Luc, Hampstead and the western section of Snowdon.

The bilingual production features Premier Philippe Couillard touting an “inclusive Quebec inside Canada”.  “We’re all Quebecers,” says Couillard and we must “erase divisions.”

These are all very welcome words for D’Arcy McGee residents and indeed all Quebecers. I look forward to the premier putting these brave and inspiring words into action.

The closing remarks pay tribute to former D’Arcy McGee MNA, Dr. Victor Goldbloom, who passed away two weeks ago. The premier’s comments are touching.

Congratulations, once again, to our energetic MNA for this excellent communication effort with his constituents.

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