Martin C. Barry
The council chamber at Laval City Hall was packed on March 12 for the monthly council meeting as a large number of residents turned up to complain about poor snow and ice removal from city streets. Council passed a decree for the purchase of additional road salt to deal with the unforeseen sidewalk and road safety problems.
Off to a noisy start
The meeting got off to a noisy start as a result of a demonstration by unionized Laval leisure and recreation workers staged on Souvenir Blvd. outside City Hall. The workers have been negotiating with the city for the past year, a union spokesperson told the mayor during question period, without being any closer to a collective agreement settlement.
As there have been a number of such protests held before Laval city council meetings in recent years, the police appear to have learned how to minimize the noise impact on council meetings by requiring the demonstrators to remain on the sidewalk and the street, rather than on the front lawn and driveway outside City Hall.
Contract talks confidential
Saying that he was himself a union representative while employed as a detective and investigator by the Laval Police Department, Mayor Demers told a union rep during question period that he was not at liberty to openly discuss the city’s labour negotiations as they are confidential.
Regarding snow and ice removal, complaints were heard from residents in several districts. A delegation of residents from the Notre Dame Blvd. area of Chomedey had their say about the sorry state of their streets and sidewalks over the past few months. Another from Antonio St. in Chomedey also got her two cents worth in.
Resident threatens class-action
Former city councillor for Laval-des-Rapides Pierre Anthian declared at one point that the city had set a new record for “poor management of a crisis.” Marc Magendie of the Val-des-Arbres district complained that he had suffered minor injuries from falling on the ice, while adding that he hoped to organize a class action suit so that he and other claimants could recover damages from Laval.
Also during question period, Demers found himself answering questions from more than one resident regarding Gilbert Gardner, former chief of staff in the mayor’s office. Gardner stepped down from the full-time position last year for health reasons (although he was re-hired part-time). He was later accorded an almost $78,000 bonus to his pension fund when the members of the executive-committee voted in favour during a closed-door meeting.
Mayor defends ex-chief of staff
“As far as the amount which was given to Mr. Gardner, Mr. Gardner worked for that and he earned it, okay, and actually it’s a few thousand dollars every year – it’s not $10,000 a year,” said Demers. “And he deserves it and he did save a lot of money for the people of Laval. What we did was honest and done the right way. So he worked for that money and I will not refuse to do something when I think it’s the right thing to be done.”
Demers told a second questioner who was asking about Gardner that the former political staffer had put in a lot of overtime without being properly compensated for it and that it took a toll on his health. “We had the right to do it, it was a gesture of recognition, and we’re talking about sums that are not huge,” said Demers.
Farmers denounce high taxes
Later during question period, Louis Forget, a farmer from Laval’s Saint-François district and member of the board of the Union des Producteurs Agricoles’ Laval chapter, complained to the mayor about the steep property tax hike farmers from the area received in the last municipal budget.
After reminding the mayor and council of commitments made in the City of Laval’s plan for the future of its agricultural lands in June 2016, one of which was to expand Laval’s agricultural capacities, Forget said, “How is that three years later none of this holds true? Between 2018 and 2019, we had an average tax hike of 317.8 per cent of the taxes in the east of Laval on agricultural lands. Thus 100 per cent more to pay this year in taxes, and next year seeing as it’s a triennial roll there’ll be another 100 per cent more again, and then the year after than another 100 per cent.
Blame Quebec for hikes, says Demers
“There is no clearer sign of your near total disinterest for agricultural producers in Laval,” added Forget. “With this state of things, no one will ever be able to do agriculture in Laval. It’s going to cost us more after three years than what we bring in, without even counting that the agricultural land tax credit program was exhausted long ago. So with an increase of 317 per cent we know that we will be paying more.”
Responding, Mayor Demers said the process behind the land valuations is imposed by the provincial government. He added that Laval was among the first cities to acknowledge the situation was absurd and to try to take measures to compensate. “I’m not saying that the system is perfect, but we did make an effort,” said Demers, noting that Laval instituted some local measures to make up the difference.
Opposition ‘shadow cabinet’
Although it was the first council meeting at which Action Laval was taking part as a newly-unified force of six city councillors, there was little in the way of confrontation between them and the mayor.
The Action Laval councillors have each been given “shadow cabinet” responsibilities now: Michel Poissant (administration, finance, development), David De Cotis (transportation, culture, recreation, ethics, legal), Daniel Hébert (public works, environment, water), Paolo Galati (public safety, urban planning, agriculture), Aglaia Revelakis (women’s status, social affairs, seniors) and Isabella Tassoni (sustainable development, youth, downtown strategy).