Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay bets re-election on Race Card
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Montréal Mayor Gérald Tremblay believes the next municipal election will be won or lost in the city’s diverse cultural communities. Hoping to secure that vote, members of his Union Montréal Party have launched a pre-emptive strike against possible challenger Louise Harel.
Louise Harel is a former Parti Québécois Minister of Cultural Communities, Immigration and Municipal Affairs who has steadily been moving closer to City Hall’s fledgling opposition party, Vision Montréal. She is scheduled to speak at a Vision Montréal convention next week.
Last week a coalition of cultural community leaders closely associated to mayor Tremblay’s Union Montréal party accused Madame Harel of making racist remarks and encouraging xenophobia.
One week before the eruption the controversy, incumbent mayor Gérald Tremblay had identified the cultural communities’ vote as the key to his reelection.
On the 25th of February, the mayor’s party, Union Montreal, held a cocktail party for leaders of the said cultural communities at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Montreal. In the accompanying press release Mayor Tremblay is quoted as saying: « Union Montréal embodies what the New Montreal is: a mosaic of peace, that unites people of diverse talent, origins, aspirations and dreams. »
« It is clear that Montreal’s cultural communities want more and more to get involved at the level of municipal politics, and our party Union Montréal understood that need. »
On the 10th of March controversy erupted over a comment made by Louise Harel in an interview on cable news channel RDI. Speaking about the possibility of reducing the number of Montreal boroughs, Madame Harel said: “If we go from 19 to 10 boroughs, but these boroughs remain quasi-municipalities as they are now, we will end up in the worst of situations because we’ll have cities … an Italian city, a Haitian city, an anglophone city, an Arab city – Ville St. Laurent, a Jewish city, etc. We will no longer have this sense of one big city with boroughs that speaks with one voice.”
The Montreal Gazette printed a series of editorials and articles in which leaders of different cultural community groups spoke out against Madame Harel’s characterization of some Montreal boroughs as «Arab cit[ies] » and « Haitian Cit[ies] ».
Robert Libman, he former mayor of Côte-Saint-Luc, leader of the Equality Party and member of mayor Tremblay’s executive committee said Harel was “sowing the seeds of xenophobia by pointing to identifiable communities.” And that “It’s as if she sees bogeymen in everything that is not white and francophone.”
The Montreal Gazette published four articles on the issue. None included Madame Harel’s response to the accusations, taken here from free daily Metro: “This debate only serves to distract attention from the real debate, which is about whether we still have a great city in Montreal. We have to reclaim this idea that we are all Montrealers and not only citizens of boroughs that have become quasi-municipalities.”
More than half of the people quoted in the Montreal Gazette article are current or former members of Gérald Tremblay’s Union Montreal party: Marcel Trembay is a member of the city’s executive committee and the brother of Mayor Tremblay. Alan DeSousa is also a member of the executive comitee and mayor of the Ville-Saint-Laurent borough. Keder Hyppolite is a member of Union Montréal, as was Robert Libman. (A former member of Gérald Tremblay’s executive committee, Libman resigned from the party after his municipality, Côte-St-Luc, demergered from Montreal. )
On march 15th, a press conference was held by a dozen cultural community leaders to condemn Madame Harel’s comments. Speaking on behalf of the leaders was Marvin Rotrand, another member of Mayor Tremblay’s Union Montreal party and deputy leader of union Montreal at City Hall.
When contacted by the AngryFrenchInvestigativeJournalismUnit, community leaders quoted in the Montreal Gazette story all maintained that they found the quote offensive but that they did not believe Louise Harel is racist or was expressing a racist sentiment. In fact, they had only praise for Madame Harel’s record when it came to relations with minorities or immigrants.
« It was a mistake », said Tony Sciascia, president of the Québec section of the Congress of Italian Canadians. « I know Mrs Harel quite well, I think it was more of a lapsus rather than using those terms.»
Mr. Sciascia, who was the organiser of the March 15th press conference and demonstration against Madame Harel’s statement, denied his involvement in this controversy is politically motivated. « I’m not interested in politics my friend. »
Hear more of what Tony Sciascia’s had to say:
Kéder Hippolyte of the National Council of Citizens of Haitian Origin and himself a member of Union Montréal did not participate in the March 15th demonstration. «I’m not going going to take part in that demonstration. This is political demonstration. »
Mr. Hippolyte says he was surprised by Madame Harel’s comment and wishes she would clarify her thoughts. «She is one of the persons who always talks on behalf of immigrants, she was a former Minister of immigration, she created structures to help immigrants integrate society, and now she is telling me she is afraid of an Haitian city, an Italian city… it is up to her to explain. »
Hear more of Kéder Hippolyte’s thoughts:
« I reacted to the journalist’s question who said it might be possible that there would be Haitian cities, Italian cities and Arab cities in Montreal. That’s not what we aspire to in Montreal », said Ninette Piou, also of the National Council of Citizens of Haitian Origin.
Madame Ninette Piou objects to a quote she never heard:
Madame Piou said she still had not read or heard for herself the controversial quote by Madame Harel and was unsure of what was actually said. « Knowing madame Harel, because I had not heard the declaration, I was surprised she would say such a thing. If she said it I am offended. »