“We need your help,” my step-mother said when I stopped by for supper yesterday evening. “You know about this city stuff. You’ve got to help us figure out who to vote for.”
Oh dear. This election has got me turning in circles like a cat that can’t quite figure out where to plunk herself down.
“Well, who are the candidates in this riding?” I began tentatively.
“Uh, you know…Tremblay, and that woman, and…”
Sigh. I guess those election posters DO serve a purpose after all.
“Did you get the list of candidates in the mail?”
“No… All we got were these voting reminders.”
She dug out a trio of unopened envelopes from Elections Montreal addressed to her, my dad, and my brother who has yet to change his address.
On the back of the voting reminder we found the list of local candidates. Being in a Plateau Mont-Royal riding, my parents have 4 categories to vote in: Mayor, Borough Mayor, City councillor and Borough councillor. Glancing over the dozens of names on the paper, their uncertainty about the upcoming election went from bad to worse.
“We have to vote for all of these guys? Isn’t that a little…overkill?”
Well, maybe. But without going into debates about the municipal decision-making structure, I quickly sketched out the levels of government (fortunately, I’d looked it up just last week after puzzling over my own list of candidates):
This is made up of five to seven people including borough councillors, city councillors an the borough mayor. However, some large boroughs do not distinguish between “borough councillors” and “city councillors” because everyone on the borough council also sits on the city council.
These are the folks that you are most likely to come in contact with if you want a permit to renovate your house, more bike racks, traffic calming, more parks, better libraries or sports facilities.
- Urban planning at a local level
- Waste collection
- Culture (libraries, culture centres)
- Recreation (pools, arenas, etc)
- Social and community development
- Roads (and snow clearing)
- Fire prevention
The city council is composed of the mayor, the 18 borough mayors and 46 city counsellors from the different boroughs. The number of city counsellors that represent each borough at City council varies from 1 to 5, depending on the population of the borough.
The municipal council is the main deciding body, reponsible for (among other things):
- public security
- negotiating with other levels of government
- subsidized housing programs
- the city-wide urban plan
- approving some borough-level decisions
The executive is made up of 12 members including the mayor and 11 other councillors (chosen from among the elected borough mayors and borough councillors) appointed by the mayor. The Executive committee is a pretty powerful body, responsible for producing documents such as budgets and bylaws, which are then submitted to city council for approval. The executive committee wrote up the recent transportation plan and urban plan.
The executive committee can also grant contracts and subsidies, and manage human and financial resources, buildings and purchases. Members of the Executive committee were the players in the scandals that have marked the last administration (including the SHDM debacles and the water meter deal).
But the executive committee is not on the ballot, and that is the reason your mayoral vote matters most. The mayor usually appoints people from his or her own party – which is why it is worth taking a look at who the bigwigs are in each party, even if they are not in your riding.
To get some idea, here is the list of the Tremblay administration’s current executive committee, and Vision Montréal’s “working groups” led by an impressive lineup of candidates.
Interestingly, Projet Montréal’s Richard Bergeron recently said that, should he be elected, he would create a coalition executive committee including some members of his rival parties. Smart move for a fresh-faced party who could jump from 1 token representative to 32% of the vote. It would make sense to keep the competent, experienced councilors on board and avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
I’m voting for everybody
We looked over my parents’ candidates and I picked out the ones I knew (like Michel Labrecque, the well-chosen president of the STM who is running with Team Tremblay.) Then we spent some time googling the candidates we didn’t know to get a sense of what their deal was.
One thing that the exercise really drove home was that the lines between parties are rather blurry. Between my folks’ deck of candidates and my own I’ve seen ex-Union Montréal candidates running for Vision Montréal and for Projet Montréal, and even an ex-Projet Montréal candidate running for Vision Montréal.
My advice ended up being: pick the individuals who best represent your interests no matter what party the are running with. And by that logic, the three major parties may well be getting votes from me come Sunday.
Image created by a design student at UQAM, part of the sos montréal campaign. Used with permission.