One major reason Robert Libman wants to be mayor of Côte-St-Luc, Que., again, is because he believes the current city council does not reflect the city’s changing cultural and linguistic makeup, or the influx of young families.
After a couple of weeks testing the waters, Libman made his bid for the mayoralty in the Nov. 5 election official on June 22 at a press conference held at the Quartier Cavendish shopping centre.
Libman, 56, the former Equality Party leader and MNA for the riding of D’Arcy McGee, was acclaimed mayor in 1998 and then borough mayor of Côte-St-Luc-Hampstead-Montreal West three years later, after the island-wide merger.
He quit municipal politics in 2005, after Côte-St-Luc voted to demerge from the new mega-city, following a two-year battle.
Current Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, who is seeking re-election, was a leader of the demerger campaign. Libman, who also was a member of the Montreal executive committee at the time, has been cast as having been pro-merger by the Brownstein campaign.
Libman calls this a “disingenuous attack,” which is especially worrisome when it comes from sitting Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, the immediate past mayor of Côte-St-Luc. Housefather, who is endorsing Brownstein, defeated Libman, the Conservative candidate, in the riding of Mount Royal in the 2015 federal election.
Libman, an architect and urban planning consultant, lost by 6,000 votes, but he points out that he had a “substantial margin of victory” in Côte-St-Luc itself.
“Many people have been encouraging me since the 2015 federal election to get back into politics,” said Libman, who was joined at his launch by Dr. Cleve Ziegler, director of gynecology at the Jewish General Hospital, and lawyer Michele Cohen, a member of the Sephardic community.
Currently, there is only one Sephardic person, Sidney Benizri, who was elected in a byelection last year, on the eight-member council. All eight are seeking re-election and are backing Brownstein. “Many have been on council for a long time; there is a need for new blood,” said Libman. “There is also a lack of transparency, which is not healthy for Côte-St-Luc. It’s extremely important for democracy to have issues debated, as opposed to (being settled by acclamation), as is too often the case.”
While he is not running on a slate, Libman said he expects candidates who share his vision to be contesting the incumbents in at least a majority of the districts.
Libman, a former B’nai Brith Canada regional director, believes he can rally support among the “grassroots.” He sees himself as up against “the Liberal party establishment,” both federal and provincial. Former D’Arcy McGee Liberal MNA Lawrence Bergman is also endorsing Brownstein.
Libman said he will “not hesitate to use the mayoralty office to speak out on behalf of minority rights.”
He notes that, while mayor, he was instrumental in finding a site in Côte-St-Luc where Chabad could build a synagogue and community centre, something it had tried to do for years, and helped establish the first B’nai Brith subsidized housing project for seniors.
The official campaign period does not begin until September, but Libman is already distributing materials detailing his platform.
Among his top issues are reducing Côte-St-Luc’s “exorbitant” taxes, relocating the CP rail yards off island and making sure the Cavendish Boulevard extension does not diminish the city’s quality of life.
Libman said Côte-St-Luc’s tax rate has grown to the second highest among the 35 municipalities and boroughs on the island of Montreal.
Over the past couple of years, Libman has been leading a campaign to move the rail yards, which he says take up a third of Côte-St-Luc’s territory and are a “wasteland at the geographic epicentre” of the island, blocking development and posing a safety hazard. He commissioned a feasibility study carried out by Université de Montréal students on how that can be done.
The Cavendish extension, which appears to finally be going ahead after decades of discussion, needs “a champion to see that it goes through without compromising the character of the community,” he said.
As for the demerger battle of yesteryear, Libman says he opposed the demerger legislation because he felt that it stripped Côte-St-Luc and other former suburbs of political clout, leaving too much taxation control in the hands of the City of Montreal.
Libman says he was never against a “true” demerger and that some of his concerns have proven to be founded, including the “skyrocketing” taxes over the past 10 years.
Brownstein countered that Libman’s statements about tax rates are inaccurate.
“Since the year 2000, during Mr. Libman’s first mandate as mayor, and for the past 16 years, the Côte-St-Luc tax rate has always been in the top four highest rates on the island. During his mandate, it rose to number three and today we are still number three behind Montreal West and Hampstead,” he said.
“Furthermore, under my leadership we are receiving a reduction of $4.8 million in our payments to the agglomeration, which was just ratified by the minister of municipal affairs this month, which will allow us to reduce our tax rate.”