Harel to divide and conquer?
Anglos, allos wary of Vision’s mayoralty candidate
By Dan Delmar
She is in no rush to speak any English beyond a few scripted catch-phrases, fears the city being divided into ethnic communities, is a hard-line separatist and claims to want to undo much of the megacity bureaucracy she helped create as municipal affairs minister: No wonder, then, that many anglophone and allophone community leaders are apprehensive, to say the least, about the prospect of Louise Harel becoming Montreal’s next mayor.
"We will need to transcend our political allegiances, our cultural and linguistic affiliations,” reads Harel’s manifesto. “I intend to rally the support of Montrealers of all ages, from all backgrounds and walks of life, francophones, anglophones, allophones, federalists and sovereignists.”
At last week’s press conference, where Harel was unveiled as Vision Montreal’s candidate, English and French journalists alike grilled the former Parti Québécois minister and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve MNA about her lack of proficiency with the English language. She read statements prepared in advance with relative ease, but when it came time to exchange ideas with reporters, Harel was uncomfortable, answering most of The Suburban’s questions in French and telling a Global TV reporter that the time for responding in English would be “tantôt” — later.
“Attitude and motivation have an awful lot to do with someone absorbing a language,” said lawyer Brent Tyler, who is a past president of the now-defunct Anglo rights group Alliance Quebec. “It’s a question of public service. She obviously is not fluent enough, as a mayor of Montreal should be.”
Tyler said it would be impractical to make bilingualism an actual requirement for the job, but said any leader ought to cater to the major linguistic groups, including the Prime Minister of Canada, who should also be bilingual. He didn’t seem impressed with the “rainbow coalition” Harel is attempting to put together, comprising of federalists, sovereignists and members of various cultural communities.
“She would have to prove that she can be mayor to all Montrealers,” he added. “She’s a hard-line Péquiste and I wouldn’t vote for her based on that. Because of the nature of the ideology…there will be a tendency to make decisions based on the sovereignist option. She has a lot of baggage.”
Harel’s apparent fear of the ghettoization of ethnic communities across the island would qualify as baggage. In March, she said if the municipal administration didn’t play its cards right, Montreal could be further separated into smaller ethnic cities; “an Italian city, a Haitian city, an Anglophone city, an Arab city — Ville St. Laurent — a Jewish city, etc…”
Salam Elmenyawi is head of the Muslim Council of Montreal, headquartered in the “Arab city” of Ville St. Laurent. He isn’t impressed with Vision’s choice for mayor and fears Harel would be a divider, not a uniter.
“I think she’s totally mistaken and confused,” Elmenyawi told The Suburban, questioning her description of his home borough. “A lot of her comments would definitely require a lot more explanation before she comes before us, asking to vote for her. People from ethnic communities certainly have a right to be here.”
Members of the ruling Union party are also blasting Harel for her comments about ethnic communities. Alan DeSousa is the mayor of Ville St. Laurent and thinks the slip of the tongue is an awful way to start a campaign.
“Clearly her comments are not something that dovetails with reality,” DeSousa said. “My community is in full growth, with 166 ethnicities. There is no one ethnicity that is preponderant. People live in harmony together, their kids play on the same soccer teams…we try to be a model for other communities.”
Even members of her own party seem anxious; Keeton Clarke, an anglophone of Caribbean origin running for Vision in Côte des Neiges-NDG’s Darlington district, chuckled nervously when The Suburban asked him at last week’s press conference how his supporters would react to the Harel nomination. “Well, they’ll definitely have a reaction,” Clarke said. He still supports the party’s new leader and is confident she can unite Montrealers of varying backgrounds.
When asked if it was hypocritical to run on a platform of reforming Montreal, a city that is “over-governed” and “over-administered,” when Harel herself was one of the architects of the current municipal structure, she said that’s all ancient history.
“You speak about the past,” she said, struggling to find the words in English, “and I hope we could work together for the future.”