Mouvement Montreal Balarama Holness

We graded every section of the Mouvement Montréal platform

The outlying progressive left party produced a platform teeming with ideas and even more buzzwords.

Ahead of the upcoming municipal election, we conducted a thorough evaluation of the platform by Mouvement Montréal, the party fronted by mayoral candidate Balarama Holness. (Please note that the platform has been updated since this article was written.)

Under “green and accessible transportation,” Balarama Holness et al come up short compared with their competitors on the matter of making no-cost public transit more accessible. While both Denis Coderre and Valérie Plante are pledging ‘free’ transit for seniors aged 65 and up, Holness says that this will only be introduced in 2025. That said, the Mouvement platform includes no-cost public transit access to youth up to age 25. We’re still miles away from no-cost public transit for everyone (which is pretty much the only way we’ll put a serious dent in the use of automobiles), but I digress. The proposal to make all transit stations universally accessible by 2028 is a nice idea, though given the cost of retrofitting so many unaccessible stations, it may actually be cheaper and better for the environment to offer door to door adapted transit by bus for those who need it.

For comparison’s sake, five years ago the STM announced it would cost $213-million to retrofit just 14 metro stations with elevators. Brand new hybrid Novabuses were retailing for about $1.13-million three years ago, so a simple cost benefit analysis would lead me to conclude that it makes more sense to buy nearly 200 new hybrid buses, all of which are already fully accessible, than to spend money retrofitting transit stations with elevators. I don’t mean to be insensitive to people with mobility issues who wish to use the metro, it just makes more sense to spend what precious little funding we have for public transit to increase the fleet of accessible buses rather than improving the accessibility of metro stations.

That matter aside, I’m on board with Holness’s plan to increase the number of STM consultations specifically geared towards improving public transit accessibility in general. His team’s last point in this section, exploring “green technologies and fuel efficient management practices” for ambulances, emergency vehicles and police cruisers isn’t a bad idea, but why not go for gold and suggest transitioning the city’s fleet of vehicles to hybrid or fully electric models?

On the topic of equitable public security and safety, Holness and Movement Montréal come into their own with some genuinely strong and progressive ideas, including my personal favourite of immediately reversing the plan to deputize the STM police. I’ve never felt safer knowing these jack-booted thugs were hanging around, and their predilection to treat turnstile-hopping teenagers like terrorists certainly hasn’t improved my enjoyment of using public transit. I wouldn’t advocate firing them, though I do think they’re less useful than having nothing at all, but I would absolutely encourage them to serve the STM in a different capacity — such as driving our buses.

Holness’s plan to reallocate police funding to social housing, health and social services and even sports infrastructure is a novel enough idea — in that it addresses some of the bigger structural problems that facilitate crime — though there are some jurisdictional issues that may complicate matters. Where Holness really gets it right is the proposal to ban street checks, get the cops out of our schools, ban the use of facial recognition technology and further ensure that no police office found guilty of breaching the ethics code is allowed to be reinstated or rehired. Getting rid of the bad apples doesn’t just deal with the immediate problem, it sends a message to the others, discouraging bad behaviour. Furthermore, removing the police’s ability to interfere with our daily lives (i.e. through street checks or the use of specialized softwares), and curbing their public presence (such as in schools), are important steps the city needs to take in the fight against normalizing the ubiquity of the police. If the American example teaches us anything, it’s that more cops do not result in safer cities. The other points in this section focus on areas where Montreal’s police, like most other forces, ought to be doing better as they might actually have a net positive effect in dealing with actual problems in our society. It should be much easier for Montrealers to report hate crimes, and the SPVM most definitely needs more cultural sensitivity and anti-racism training. I give this section an A.

Balarama Holness introduces the Mouvement Montréal platform

Concerning a “just and inclusive economic relaunch,” Holness’s proposals are a little too vague for my tastes. Establishing a municipal office to help streamline processes for small businesses isn’t a half bad idea, and I think most would agree it would be great if the city was a bit more committed to actually helping small businesses get off the ground. Tax incentives for small businesses are also a good idea, though I don’t know why Holness says they should be limited to low-income areas — I want small businesses to thrive on Ste-Catherine or Sherbrooke as much as anywhere else. Reducing the timeframes for the city to review the vaguely worded “development applications” of small and medium-sized businesses just sounds like ‘cut the red tape at city hall,’ which is fine in theory but in practice there are good reasons for city inspectors to review all the paperwork. Hiring more inspectors and more people to handle the paperwork in a more expeditious fashion seems like the better solution. Supporting enhanced coordination between small business owners, construction companies and urban planning sounds good, but to what end? I can’t tell if this is rooted in the problem of having our streets ripped up time and again with no support to local businesses, or whether we’re talking about coordinating construction related to a small business with a municipal urban planning office.

Supporting local manufacturers in their efforts to attain the world market by expediting local bureaucratic processes seems like an odd policy — I’m not sure how many local manufacturers who distribute globally have too many local hoops to jump through. Either way, if you’re a local business participating in the global economy, I’m not sure how much the city can do on the regulatory or bureaucratic side of things, and I’m fairly confident that if you’ve reached that level, you probably already have lawyers working for you to figure all that out anyway. Finally, I’m not sure why we’d want to lower industrial or commercial taxes. This section gets a C.

Mouvement’s section on affordable and social housing has the longest list of recommendations in the party’s platform. There are some good ideas to be found, such as increasing the city’s housing budget incrementally to just under 12% by 2025, and closing the exit clause for the 20/20/20 bylaw (which Projet introduced earlier this year but then scaled back somewhat — the bylaw is supposed to mandate 20% affordable housing, 20% social housing and 20% family housing in all new construction). Holness and company promise to “approve the creation of 30,000 affordable rental homes not to major transportation hubs, 20% of which are supposed to be for people who are at risk of homelessness, and 25% of which are earmarked for women-led households.” This isn’t a bad idea either, though 30,000 rental properties near major transit hubs will be hard to do, unless those transit hubs are new REM stations (in which case there may be a problem with the CDPQ, given that they’ve mandated all properties within a one kilometre radius of each new station be taxed to help pay off the cost of the REM). I’m not sure there’s much undeveloped land left near our city’s major transport hubs or metro stations that could allow for large-scale affordable housing, though there are plenty of unoccupied office towers that could be repurposed.

Holness’s idea to help developers negotiate the cost of building materials seems odd — recent spikes in the cost of basic building materials, from wood to steel, are due to global sully chain problems related to the pandemic. Plus, if you’re a property developer in this city, my guess is that you’re already an expert negotiator when it comes to getting cheap building materials. (Apocryphally, the method en vogue in the mid-1970s was to have trucks filled with such materials stop at the Olympic Stadium construction site, register their arrival with the crooked site manager, and then take off for some apartment tower or subdivision being built on the other side of town.)

All levity aside, Holness is spot on in stating that City Hall needs to stop dismantling homeless camps until it meets sufficient levels of social housing. My personal opinion is that there’s nothing lower on Earth than sending in the bulls to tear down a homeless camp in the middle of a global economic and health crisis. It really goes to show how utterly useless and contemptible the police and political class truly are. Moving on, Mouvement Montréal is right again to propose extending the eligibility criteria for social housing to include people who aren’t yet permanent residents or citizens. Like Coderre, Holness proposes to create a rental registry, but unlike Coderre, he actually explains why we should do so (rent control and stabilization—we can’t solve the problem without the data). The other points, like a registry of landlords, subject to certification and inspections, as well as rules to crack down on the proliferation of high-price vacation rental properties and foreign buyers (the latter two are key drivers in the explosion of housing costs in our city), are also well-considered policy initiatives. This whole section gets an A as well.

On the matter of the environment and climate change (aka the sweet-jesus-we’re-literally-cooking-ourselves-to-death-because-corporations-are-people-now emergency), Mouvement Montréal gets a D+. While I don’t disagree with the need for more data and data-driven decisions and the need to cut down on waste and overconsumption, the four bullet points in this section are, as the immortal James Brown might say, a lot of “talkin’ loud but sayin’ nothing.” Creating a new advisory council and incorporating Indigenous knowledge are good ideas, too, but the party’s not talking about concrete actions — such as increasing green space in the city by a set percentage, or setting our own CO2 reduction targets, or setting public transit ridership targets, or establishing how many cars we need to eliminate from our roadways each and every year. These are the ideas we need, not vague statements about climate justice. The emergency is bad enough — we’re more in the ‘build the world’s largest recycling centre and retrofit all residential roofs with solar panels and rooftop gardening’ phase of the climate emergency, and mayors need to lead from the front. Cities are going to be the drivers of major change in this respect, and unfortunately Mouvement’s ‘ideas’ are no better  than what I might expect Justin Trudeau to say.

The “sustainable land use and urban planning section” gets a mildly better grade, C, because it’s underdeveloped like the preceding section, but at the very least has two specific ideas worth mentioning. Namely, these are A) addressing the vulnerability of low income neighbourhoods to the urban heat island effect, and B) working with the forestry departments of our universities to monitor what few remaining natural and biodiverse areas we have left in our city. I can’t agree with this enough, though I’d say the latter point needs to go much further. We need to be thinking about building new swamps and wetlands as a flood prevention measure, we need to know how many trees need to be planted each year to remove a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere (etc). More funding (and space) for community gardening is a fine idea, too, but to address the growing (and anticipated) food security problems we’ll likely encounter the future, we need bolder legislation here, too, such as a city-wide urban agriculture program. 

The “children and youth” section is well considered, and deserves praise, as Holness and crew have caught on to a key issue, affordable child care, as well as before- and after-school programs — crucial elements of the social safety net and vital to ending poverty. I feel the issue of childcare services is too often approached primarily from a middle class perspective—a convenience for busy career-minded yuppies—rather than from a working class perspective (where the limitations of available childcare services can have a broad impact on where parents work and what they might have to put up with). Addressing the fact that childcare services are not distributed evenly across the city is another important consideration. Sometimes I think we’e grown so accustomed to the idea that daycare services are cheap and plentiful that we forget there are huge gaps in service and waiting lists, too. Having the city take a leadership position on this front is also crucial, given how childcare in an urban environment will face different concerns, constraints and considerations than the same services offered anywhere else in the province. B+.

Concerning what the party terms “fair taxation,” Holness et al recommend retaining one percentage point of the TVQ and further wants the province to allocate a larger portion of the provincial GDP to Montreal’s municipal budget. Holness has argued that Montreal contributes about $200-billion to the provincial GDP but only has a budget of $6-billion. These aren’t bad ideas, though I’m not sure how Montreal’s going to successfully lobby the province — specifically one with Frank Lego as premier — to cough up more cheddar for our own uses. It’s still worth trying, but we also need to keep in mind that the wealth we generate here, in the economic engine of the province, helps pay for things province-wide and helps maintain a comparatively high standard of living. Any discussion of greater autonomy, or greater control over the revenue we generate, needs to be considered cautiously in that context.

Eliminating the welcome tax seems like a crowd pleaser, but the tax is an important source of income for the city, and I’m not sure Montreal needs less money. Instituting a tax relief program for people in extreme poverty is a nice idea, but it’s not clear how (or why) the city of Montreal could reasonably get involved in taxation relief for its poorest citizens. The idea of an “Indigenous Reconciliation and Solidarity tax” needs to be explained, because right now it isn’t anything more than some vaguely feel good/do-good words strung along with the word “tax” appended. Mandating that the city produce a fully accessible and audited budget could be a good idea, though I fear the anti-tax crowd will only use it to bitch and moan about how “we” are all paying too much in taxes. I’m all for transparency until the yahoos of the Ayn Rand Fan Club start using public information to pull society apart. On the whole, this section gets a C+.

Mouvement Montréal has a whole section of its platform dedicated to language politics, and many of the points are essentially expansions on (or things that would happen as a result of) the first, which is to recognize Montreal as officially bilingual. Holness has explained that he wants to hold a local referendum on the matter, which I find quite interesting — while I’m not certain a decisive majority of Montrealers would vote in favour, I suspect those who might approve of such a status would be far higher than language hawks would dare imagine. If those who wish for such a status are in the 40–50% of the population range, this needs to be considered.  I have to admit my bias here — while I don’t have much in common with Mr. Holness, I also come from a mixed English-French family and have been speaking French for as long as I’ve been alive. Most of the first generation Montrealers I have met in my life speak both languages fluently, and are also aware that ‘anglo’ and ‘franco’ isn’t just a linguistic distinction, but a cultural one as well. Our city is obviously much more than two language camps, and as our society moves towards being more open and inclusive, it is inevitable that those who do not consider themselves to be part of these ethnolinguistic communities will seek to be better represented. So this idea of having a referendum on a bilingualism status really has more to do with recognizing the changing face of the city as much as ensuring the city’s services and website are fully accessible in both languages. Holness also wants the city to encourage more anglophones to apply for municipal jobs and have the city take the lead on subsidized language courses as well. I’m not arguing with any of it. As far as I’m concerned, the shit fit some language hawks and cultural chauvinists have been having about this mere proposal is evidence enough that we should go ahead with it. Having a bilingual status won’t change the city’s demographics or the linguistic and cultural primacy of the French language. B.

On the subject of improving the health of our democracy, this section is a smidge inconsistent. Freezing elected officials’ salaries? Absolutely! Capping the political career of elected officials to four mandates, I’m less interested in: if someone does their job well, they ought to be allowed to do it forever. Insisting that borough mayors host monthly community engagement meetings (and reporting these meetings to city council) sounds good, too, as there are definitely some borough mayors, past and present, who rule their little fiefdoms without care or interest in what their people think, need or want. Online referendums on all major projects and decisions seems like a good idea but may become bulky and difficult to manage in practice. These referendums couldn’t be binding — we elect municipal governments to make decisions without constantly appealing to the public for their input. In too many cases, this would require a fair bit of effort to explain the job of our elected officials to the general public, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I can imagine this would seriously hinder the effectiveness of government. Polling the public, and including surveys as part of public consultations, seems like the more effective way to go. Having referendums on every major project and decision to be taken by the municipal government would require mandatory participation and some kind of guarantee the public was fully informed before they voted, something we have enough difficulty with just in the process of choosing the mayor, councillors etc.

Finally, legislating a bylaw that all parties have at least 30% of their candidates come from “ethnocultural backgrounds” is peculiar and too vague to make any sense. I’m a white guy of mixed English and French ancestry — that’s my ethnocultural background. Unless you grew up in a cave with no family, everyone has an “ethnocultural background.” I believe what Team Holness wanted to write was that a minimum of 30% of candidates come from communities of colour, which is fine, though it should be made clear — you can’t force people to run for office. Also, note to the team: there’s a typo in this bullet point. B- for this section.

We graded every section of the Mouvement Montréal platform

On Indigenous rights and reconciliation, first of all, kudos for making this a whole section of the platform. Updating the city’s charter of rights and responsibilities to acknowledge that Montreal is on unceded Indigenous territory is the right way forward, though this will invariably lead to self-described historians from the nationalist camp to talk about how the island was completely uninhabited when de Maisonneuve established Ville Marie in 1642. Incorporating Indigenous history into the training of tour guides and interpretive guides at local institutions is also a good idea, though I suspect this is already being done independently of the city. Encouraging Indigenous employment within the city, and dedicating financial support to social housing specifically for Indigenous people, are both good ideas and smart measures: Montreal has to do much better on the matter of reconciliation, and changing street names or putting a new symbol on the flag isn’t going to cut it. Where I think some clarification is needed is Holness’s idea to track the progress of Indigenous candidates through the employment process. If this is limited to having the city’s Human Resources people carefully review how decisions are made vis-à-vis Indigenous candidates, such as with an eye to ensuring the elimination of discriminatory hiring practices, then there’s no problem (though these candidates would have to provide their consent if they’re to be a part of an internal HR study). Establishing a reparations advisory committee is well-intentioned, though I’m not sure what precisely this is supposed to accomplish (truly, of all the party’s policy points, this one needs the most elaboration). I would invite Mr. Holness and his team (and yourselves) to read up on the work of Dr. Adolph Reed, a prominent Black academic who has written critically of racism and inequality in the United States from a progressive left perspective, and specifically Dr. Reed’s thoughts on reparations. On the whole, this section gets a B.

On the arts and culture front, the whole section is very vague. As an example: “Leverage the city’s major events, such as the Grand Prix du Canada and Montreal Jazz Festival, to stimulate business alliances (including cultural relationships), develop and expand markets and attract investments”. This is hard to argue with but I’m also not certain what this means — these festivals are already at the centre of extensive business alliances, and I’m not sure how developing and expanding markets will apply to the Grand Prix or Jazz Fest. Increasing “cultural outreach” and art programming in our public schools is fine, but this is a provincial area of jurisdiction (and what does cultural outreach mean in this context anyways?). Providing tax incentives to cultural organizations that include “racialized or Indigenous people” on their boards seems like a bit of an odd choice — first, woe be unto the cultural organization in 2021 that isn’t working hard to increase the diversity of its administration. Second, what additional tax incentives are meant to be offered to cultural organizations, which either operate as charities or at an arm’s length of a government agency, department or ministry? If the idea is to increase and incentivize the hiring of BIPOC Montrealers to the boards of our major cultural institutions, Equipe Mouvement should say so directly rather than this Byzantine construction. An Indigenous arts and culture grant program? Great idea. A summer internship program for local youth aged 18–29 at our major cultural institutions? A little depressing that adults nearly up to age 30 need the largesse of the city to get access to internship programs but I guess this is okay (though I’ll point out there’s no mention of making such positions paid, and if anything needs to be addressed, it’s predatory unpaid internship programs aimed at ‘the youths’). C- grade, uninspired.

Finally, on the subject of sports, leisure and recreation, Equipe Holness pour la Mouvement des Montrealais focuses on expanding sports and recreation access for low-income Montrealers, both by building more sports and recreation facilities in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and by making access to these facilities free. You’ll get no argument from me here — we absolutely need more sports, leisure and recreation services, and the infrastructure for these services is lacking from disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and the city should make all of this as affordable as possible. But again, this section lacks specifics and seems a bit tacked on. Coderre, by contrast, is proposing that these facilities at public schools be made available to the public at large (something that’s already sort of happening but is far from universal). For a former football player, I’m surprised Holness isn’t advocating, as an example, a municipal program that loans children the equipment necessary to participate in certain sports. The cost of sports equipment is often a barrier to the children of low income families, and kids can quickly outgrow equipment from year to year. Renting the equipment from the city for a nominal fee would be a far better way of ensuring kids have access to youth sports programs in our city. This section also gets a C-.

On a final note, though it isn’t mentioned in the platform, Holness has advocated that the city should pursue an NBA franchise, almost as though this was somehow the better professional sport for our city to pursue. While Holness is correct in stating that the Bell Centre could theoretically be used for basketball games, the city doesn’t own the arena, and it’s not clear the Molsons want anything else eating into an already busy hockey and concert schedule. But more importantly, irrespective of the sport, its popularity or how many current NBA stars happen to come from our city, pro sports are a scam of the highest order, sucking up public money and converting that into private profit. Even if some kind of arrangement could be worked out with the Molsons, Evenko, the Habs and the Bell Centre to accommodate an expansion NBA franchise, the city would in all likelihood be expected to pony up some amount of money, be it by greasing palms or buying in as a minority partner in the business. We haven’t even come around to what pro sports teams cost in terms of policing, water, electricity and other utilities, to say nothing of the environmental and lost productivity costs associated with the traffic jams that invariably develop around the arena on game days. And the leagues aren’t in this business altruistically — they aim to make as much money for the least possible overhead cost imaginable. The “positive economic impact” of pro sports and major sporting events is often exaggerated in the extreme, as if pro sports were the major drivers of city economies. They aren’t. Don’t believe the hype.

On the whole, this is a good first try for a new political party, and Holness has enough good new ideas to at least deserve to be invited to all the debates. Where his party’s platform stumbles is in the number of policy points that are so vague and imprecise it makes me wonder if they were included just to meet a quota of buzzwords.

It’s important to note that I’m writing this on October 18 and the Mouvement Montréal website still says that a full platform will be released after concluding additional public consultations in September. Better to under-promise and over-deliver than the opposite. If Holness & co. have an updated platform, like his website currently indicates will be made available to the public after consultations the were to have happened in September, I look forward to reading it. ■

To read our review of the Ensemble Montréal platform, please click here. For more on the Montreal municipal election on Nov. 6–7, please visit the Elections Montreal website.

Read more articles by Taylor C. Noakes here.