Part of an on-going series I’m contributing to. Mary Ann was a joy to interview. The original, as with a lot of other things I’ve written, can be found on Forget the Box.
Mary Ann Davis has lived in Verdun for over twenty years, having moved to Montreal as soon as she could get out of Thetford Mines. As a child, her father had taken her to Montreal on a business trip and in Phillips Square together they sat munching on ice cream cones. She vividly recalls taking in all that was around her, enjoying the comings and goings of so many people and deciding that this was the city for her.
Ms. Davis is a union organizer, LGBTQ activist and Projet Montréal candidate for Verdun borough mayor.
What’s the big issue, for you and the people you wish to represent, that will define this election?
Nun’s Island needs a new school. The current primary school on the predominantly residential and upper-middle class island is the largest in the province with over 900 students. A new school has been officially required since 2007 but there’s been too little movement on the issue.
The biggest problem is that there’s little available land left on the island and all of it is in private hands waiting to be developed into townhouses and condo complexes. With more than 22 000 residents living on the island, we believe a new school is a major priority.
The current borough government wants to place the school in a park, adjacent to two of the island’s major thoroughfares. The site is too small to accommodate the large new school which is required to serve residents’ needs, meaning if the current plan goes ahead, we’ll be right back where we started, needing another school, in but a few years’ time.
We think this is profoundly irresponsible. Moreover, Nun’s island will soon need a secondary school as well, given current demographic trends. We feel it’s far better we plan for those future realities now rather than deal with the consequences later on.
What has the current administration done about this issue?
The current Union Montreal borough administration has not handled this well. They made it a needlessly divisive issue; people are being harassed, tires have been slashed. Keep in mind that the Verdun borough mayor’s office has been raided by UPAC three times; it’s clear to me someone may have some significant real estate interests.
There’s enough undeveloped land on Nun’s Island for between eight and ten thousand more apartments or condos. That’s a lot of potential tax revenue. But Projet Montréal has thoroughly studied this issue, has analyzed the OCPM’s 71-page report and we’ve come to a different conclusion: private land should be used for new schools.
It’s ridiculous to put a too small school in the middle of a park. Other lots have been offered by private developers, so we’d really like to know why the current Union Montreal government is so insistent on the location the OCPM deemed insufficient.
How has Verdun changed since you moved here?
Well, the first week I lived here there was an arsonist on the loose.
So it has improved?
Ha! Yes, by leaps and bounds. There were parts of Verdun you simply didn’t walk around late at night by yourself back then, today Verdun’s nothing like that. Real estate speculators keep indicating it’s one of many ‘next Plateaus’ in our city. There’s certainly been some gentrification, but this has been problematic as well. Verdun is an affordable inner-ring suburb and I’d like to keep it that way.
Tell me about the community you wish to represent, what are their needs?
Verdun is now a very multi-cultural community, with large Chinese, Haitian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Rwandan communities. We also have a surprisingly large Latino community.
But all too often I find these diverse communities living in silos – I’ve been walking around visiting apartment buildings where only one ethnic group can take up an entire building. That needs to change.
Further, many immigrants feel completely disengaged from civic politics, some have even been incredulous when I told them that they had the right to vote in our municipal elections. Can you believe it?
What do you want to accomplish if elected borough mayor?
Aside from solving the public school problem in Nun’s Island, I want to revitalize our main commercial arteries with more locally-owned small businesses. We also need to avoid a ‘condo ghettoization’ of Verdun and secure low-cost housing.
I’d also like to get citizen committees up and running on specific issues, be it new schools or what our needs are vis-a-vis the Champlain Bridge replacement. Ultimately, we need a far more engaged citizenry, so that we can resuscitate Verdun’s greatest single characteristic – its community spirit.
Is Montreal a gay sanctuary?
From my perspective, yes, absolutely, but we need to be aware of how recent this is. When I first moved to Montreal I did so because small-town Québec wasn’t terribly interested in being open and inclusive towards homosexuals.
But we absolutely must remember that, even as recently as twenty years ago, gay-bashings were far more frequent and the Montreal police even had a ‘morality squad’ which was all too often employed in raiding underground gay clubs, beating the shit out of people, and/or patrolling Mount Royal ticketing men for ‘cruising.’ It’s probably very surprising for young people today to hear such things.
What changed on a local level?
About twenty years ago the gay community in Montreal got organized and began pushing for reforms. It helped that there was a human rights commission set up to investigate anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, not to mention all the bad press the Sex Garage raid produced. But things really picked up when the gay community began concentrating in what is today the Gay Village and local politicians realized that the LGBTQ community as a whole was increasingly wealthy and far better connected.
Once politicians realized we were organized and resourceful (not to mention swimming in disposable income), they became sincerely interested in ‘the gay vote.’ The rest, as they say, is history.
Montrealers go to the polls November 3rd 2013. For the love of all that’s good and holy, please go vote. Make sure your name’s registered by calling Elections Québec.