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.

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

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.”

Cote Saint-Luc mayoral race shaping up to be a battle between Mitchell Brownstein and Robert Libman

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Côte-St-Luc, Que., Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, surrounded by supporters, makes his re-election bid official on June 9. JANICE ARNOLD PHOTO

He hasn’t yet decided whether he would try to get his old job back as mayor of Côte-St-Luc, Que., but Robert Libman has come out swinging against incumbent Mitchell Brownstein, for his and his supporters’ criticism of how Libman handled the municipal demerger issue more than a decade ago.

Libman suggests that federal partisan politics are motivating the “attack.”

At a press conference held at a kosher restaurant on June 9, Brownstein officially announced that he is seeking re-election in November. A longtime councillor, Brownstein was acclaimed mayor in March 2016, following the resignation of Anthony Housefather, who was elected as the federal Liberal MP for Mount Royal the previous fall.

Housefather, who had been mayor for 10 years, was on hand to endorse Brownstein’s candidacy. Friends for more than 20 years, Housefather said Brownstein is “probably the person I have asked advice of more than any other.”

He and Brownstein were leaders of the Côte-St-Luc demerger campaign from 2002 to 2004.

Also present were Peter Trent, former mayor of Westmount, Que., and former chair of the Association of Suburban Mayors, and Lawrence Bergman, who was an MNA for the riding of D’Arcy-McGee for 19 years.

READ: PROPOSED NEW SHUL DIVIDES LARGELY JEWISH MONTREAL SUBURB

Both praised Brownstein for, as Bergman put it, his “blue-chip integrity.”

Brownstein, 56, has also received the endorsement of all eight councillors, each of whom will be seeking re-election.

The decision by residents of Côte-St-Luc to fight the forced creation of the island-wide city of Montreal, which was finally achieved through a referendum in 2004, has proven to be the right one, Housefather said.

“I’ve not heard one person say, ‘Why did we not stay in Montreal? What a terrible decision we made’.”

Then Housefather turned his sights on Libman, the former provincial Equality Party leader and MNA, who was acclaimed Côte-St-Luc mayor in 1998 and then borough mayor of Côte-St-Luc-Hampstead-Montreal West in 2001.

At the time, he was named to the Montreal Executive Committee, which is responsible for urban planning, and supported continuing as part of the megacity (with some nuances). He quit municipal politics in 2005.

In the 2015 federal election, he ran unsuccessfully as the Conservative candidate in Mount Royal against Housefather.

Housefather, a borough councillor at the time, said winning on the demerger issue was a hard struggle, and Libman a tough opponent.

A blue ribbon became the symbol of the demerger campaign, he recalled. “Libman called them shmatte and ordered the ribbons taken down from public property, where they were legally, and from private property.

“Mitchell reacted calmly and simply said ‘put them back up,’ which we did over one weekend.”

Libman, 56, responded with a statement: “I haven’t even decided yet if I am running … yet the current mayor and other local politicians decided to come out and attack me … with falsehoods and exaggerations. This odd spectacle was bizarre and over the top, but I’ve always been up against this Liberal establishment mentality that is so condescending towards our community and which constantly takes us for granted and tells us how we have to vote.

“Their comments about demerger were disingenuous. About half of the current Côte-St-Luc council supported the same position that I did at time.…It was an intellectual debate about municipal structures and taxation. I wasn’t against true demerger, but opposed the (Quebec) government’s Bill 9 … the so-called demerger legislation was a ‘dog’s breakfast’ allowing former suburbs to supposedly demerge according to a controversial voting formula but also stripped them of any clout and political power and forcing them into a ‘taxation without representation’ straitjacket.”

A lawyer by profession, Brownstein said he would continue to be a full-time mayor, if re-elected.

“Our finances have never been better,” he said. “This year, we had a surplus of over $1 million and we will be paying $2.4 million less to the Montreal agglomeration council over the next three years for island-wide services.”

Libman begs to differ. “Côte-St-Luc is a great community in which to live, but we can do much better with stronger leadership,” he said. “We have the second-highest tax rate of all 35 cities and boroughs on the island of Montreal. This was unheard of when I was mayor.”

Brownstein, first elected to council in 1990, was also praised as a “consensus” builder.

Sidney Benizri, the city’s first francophone Sephardic councillor, who was elected in a byelection last year, said, “I was immediately welcomed by Mayor Brownstein as part of the team. I appreciate his openness to all communities.… Mitchell has a capacity for united people and this characterizes his strong leadership skills.”

Mitchell Brownstein announces plans to run for re-election

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Global News Montreal

Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein formally announced that he will be throwing

his hat in the ring and will be running for re-election in this year’s November elections

On Friday morning, current mayor of Côte St-Luc, Mitchell Brownstein, announced that he was putting in his candidacy to run for another term as mayor of the city.

At the Elna Bistro press conference, Brownstein made the announcement with the support of six city councillors present and with statements read from two other city councillors who were unable to attend.

He was also supported by Anthony Housefather, member of Parliament for Mount Royal, Lawrence Bergman, former minister of revenue, and Peter Trent, former mayor of Westmount and former president of the Association of Suburban Mayors.

“Mitchell has the capacity of reuniting people and this characterizes his strong leadership skills,” city Coun. Sidney Benizri said.

When Trent spoke, he mentioned that he had originally written a speech that focused on Brownstein’s accomplishments but since he learned yesterday that another candidate would be running, he decided he needed to speak about Brownstein’s potential opponent.

“I didn’t want to use the L-word at that point,” Trent said.

“But then yesterday, I discovered that Mr. Robert Libman has decided to put his toe in the water to see the temperature with regard to running again as the mayor of Côte St-Luc.

And I thought it was important that I give some context to this rather strange desire on the part of Mr. Libman to come back.”

Trent said that during 2002 and 2004, he led the de-merger movement.

“And my comrades in arms were Anthony Housefather and Mitch.”

Trent placed his hand on Brownstein’s shoulder as he spoke.

“I have seen them fight for their city which I think is important that potential electors realize,” Trent said.

Trent explained that five weeks before the 2001 election, Libman thought the mega-city would be a “bureaucratic monster” and that Libman was “completely against it”.

But, Trent said, then he changed his mind.

“From then on, he became the biggest cheerleader for the mega city, to the point that when we managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat and have a chance at de-merging, he actually argued against de-merging,” Kent said.

According to Trent, the de-merger is the most important thing to happen to Côte St-Luc.

“You can judge a person’s character on how they behave during a tough time,” Kent said.

Trent added that Brownstein has the capacity to “do the right thing when times are tough” and that history has proven that Brownstein can stay the course and fulfils his promises.

Housefather said that you can tell a lot about a man from what he does when the chips are down, and told a story about how Brownstein lifted him – and others – up.

Housefather reminded the crowd about how difficult it was to bring the de-merger to life back then.

“There was not an incentive from the government for us to de-merge,” Housefather said. “They put a process in place that was exceptionally difficult.”

He explained that at the time the symbol used to support the concept of a de-merger was a blue ribbon and told a story about how, one weekend, they all went out and put up blue ribbons on both public property, and the private property of those who requested it, across the city.

He said he was shocked and discouraged when he heard that then-mayor, Libman, was on the news opposing the ribbons and had Public Works crews out taking down all their blue ribbons.

This year, his first year as mayor, they ran a surplus of over a million dollars, he says, but with the Association of Suburban Mayors, they were able to negotiate a deal with Montreal where the city of Côte St-Luc will be paying $2.4 million less, phased in over three years, in order to support island-wide services.

“That is really who I want to be as mayor,” Brownstein said at the press conference when it was his time to speak.

“Someone who could create consensus, who can work together for what the people want.”

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