Montreal

With a renewed mandate, what will Liberals do about gentrification and gun violence in Montreal?

After casting his ballot Monday, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau walked into a protest emblematic of the overlap between some municipal and federal issues. With his party back in power, what can Montrealers expect?

Advocates say there is a lack of social housing in Trudeau's Montreal riding

Justin Trudeau, accompanied by his family, cast his ballot in Parc-Extension in his Montreal riding of Papineau Monday. Activists protested gentrification in the neighbourhood as they walked out. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

When Liberal leader Justin Trudeau walked out of a community centre in Montreal's Parc-Extension after casting his ballot Monday, he was met by a group protesting gentrification in the rapidly changing neighbourhood at the heart of his riding.

Ballots hadn't been counted and already municipal issues were facing Trudeau, who was re-elected with a minority hours later.

The housing crisis in what's known as Park-Ex is an issue at all levels of government and one confronting low-income neighbourhoods across the country — but the protest overlapping municipal and federal affairs was timely in Quebec. 

As the federal election neared its end Friday, municipal election campaigns were launched all over the province. 

Tuesday, Projet Montréal leader and incumbent Valérie Plante reacted to Trudeau's re-election, reiterating demands she made in August, including that the federal government find ways to maintain Montreal's affordability for home buyers and renters.

Plante said she applauds the Liberal platform's pledge to build affordable housing for the middle class, calling it "very important here in Montreal."

But Amy Darwish, a community organizer with the Comité d'Action de Parc-Extension (CAPE) who was one of the protesters in Trudeau's riding Monday, says it's social housing that politicians need to focus on. 

"[Trudeau's] campaign promises this time focused almost entirely on access to property, which we don't think will do anything for the tenants of his riding — many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, are struggling to make rent, let alone afford a down payment on a house," Darwish said. 

Amy Darwish, a tenants' advocate with the Comité d'action de Parc-Extension, says people are being pushed out of Parc-Extension where affordable apartments are increasingly scarce. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

She says there is a backlog of 700 people on a waiting list for social housing in Parc-Extension, a neighbourhood with one of the lowest median incomes and highest population densities in all of Canada.

In recent years, rents in the area have shot up as a snazzy Université de Montréal campus was built nearby. Darwish says the gentrification is pushing poor residents out of the neighbourhood, far from the communities and services they need most. 

Denis Coderre, the Ensemble Montréal mayoral candidate and the mayor who preceded Plante, also reacted Tuesday to Trudeau's election win.

Coderre, who is also a former Liberal MP, said Quebecers sent a message that they wanted stability and he believes cities will figure prominently in this Liberal minority mandate because of how urban areas voted for the party.

"If you want to talk about housing, you have to be able to deliver the goods. Our team has the skills, efficiency and expertise," he said. 

Darwish blamed Coderre for not doing more during his time as mayor in 2013-17 to create social housing in the city.

Ensemble Montréal mayoral candidate and former mayor Denis Coderre says Quebecers voted for stability Monday. (CBC)

Mayoral candidate Balarama Holness of Movement Montreal says that if he is elected, he will ask the federal government to transfer ownership of the Peel Basin, a piece of land southwest of downtown Montreal, to the city to build social housing on.

"Housing is a fundamental right. Yet, over 24,000 people are on the city's wait list for subsidized housing, including 325 families in urgent need of shelter since July 1, 2021," Holness said in a news release.

Holness said he also wants Montreal recognized as a city-state so it can get more control over immigration, social services, and education.

Should cities have their own handgun bans?

Another issue that figured prominently in the federal campaign and that could affect cities is gun control. 

The Liberals campaigned on a promise to toughen Canada's gun control laws. The party tabled a gun control bill, Bill C-21, in February that proposed giving municipalities power to ban handguns.

Projet Montréal mayoral candidate and incumbent Valérie Plante reacted to the federal election Tuesday. (Radio-Canada)

Plante said Tuesday she was disappointed by Trudeau's gun control proposals, suggesting they don't go far enough and put the burden on municipalities.

She said she would prefer to see harsher sentences as a deterrent to crime.

But Noah Schwartz, an assistant professor of political science at Concordia University, says tough-on-crime laws are rarely effective. 

"People aren't necessarily weighing the full risk and benefits of what they're doing when they're doing it, so the prospect of longer sentences doesn't always deter criminals," Schwartz said. 

Bill C-21 wouldn't solve the problem either, said Schwartz, whose research focuses on firearms policy. 

Most of the shootings that happen in cities are with illegal guns smuggled across the United States border, which tighter border controls struggle to prevent, he said. 

Plante suggested she wanted more illegal guns seized at the border.

"It's tricky because we share the world's largest undefended land border with a country that has the largest civilian stock of firearms," Schwartz said. 

Noah Schwartz is an assistant professor at Concordia University in Montreal, whose research focuses on firearms policy. (Bryan Gagnon)

He says that, while investing in better police intelligence to prevent and better understand smuggling routes can help, governments often overlook tackling root causes. 

"We really have to approach this issue more from a social perspective," he said. 

"Why are communities, usually racialized communities, usually marginalized communities — why are mostly young men coming from these communities joining gangs? Why are these gangs their only pathway to status and to wealth? Why aren't we creating more opportunities to bring these people into society?"

The Liberal platform says its government is "investing in prevention efforts and [is] providing $250 million directly to municipalities and Indigenous communities."

It's unclear in the platform if that money has already been spent or whether it is part of several different programs. 

Whether it's at the municipal or federal level, Schwartz says there is often a focus on policing when it comes to guns. 

"It's not necessarily about managing the issue as much as it is about managing the image of the issue," he said.

"We really have to look critically at some of these proposals that are being put forward."

With files from Shuyee Lee

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