Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard spoke Friday to a full audience of the Côte St. Luc Men’s Club at that city’s Aquatic and Community Centre.
The Premier spoke and answered questions about various issues, including health care, court case delays and seniors issues. He was also asked about the planned provincial riding changes for the next election, including the elimination of the Mont Royal riding as part of a merger with the Outremont riding, and the expansion of the D’Arcy McGee riding eastward.
Local politicians and activists have argued these changes violate the Election Commission’s own guidelines that ridings’ “natural communities” should be respected. Local ethnic communities say they will be split between ridings.
A citizens committee, chaired by Suburban editor-in-chief Beryl Wajsman and former NDG-Lachine MP Marlene Jennings, has hired constitutional lawyer Julius Grey to handle the legal case. Wajsman has been spearheading the fundraising effort for the legal case having raised over $6,000 in crowd funding. He took the opportunity to inform the Premier that the legal challenge will be filed in court before the end of the month.
Couillard told the gathering that the riding issue is not restricted to Montreal, but also affects the Mauricie where two ridings are also set to merge.
“People are not very happy there — it’s not related to language, it’s related to representation [in that area] on a very large territory,” the Premier said.
Couillard explained that it was decided years ago to enable the independent, non-partisan Quebec Electoral Commission to decide on riding changes “to remove petty politics and partisanship from the issue.
“The only way for us to act on [riding changes considered to be unjust] is to change the criteria on which the commission bases itself to make decisions, and for this we need to change electoral law.
“I’m not ruling this out. We’re going to have significant discussions. I know legal recourse has been tabled by the community here on this, and people should exercise their rights. That’s something that should be done.”
Couillard said he is concerned about representation by number.
“On the island of Montreal, the issue is numbers, because you say ‘why is our vote less important, apparently at least than in other parts of Quebec with a smaller population?’”
The Premier said he is also worried about the quality of representation, in relation to the rural ridings, because of their massive size distance-wise.
“We have MNAs who have to literally drive for full days and they don’t even see the whole of their community.”
Numerous dignitaries attended Friday’s speech. Couillard was introduced by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum and thanked by Côte St. Luc mayor Mitchell Brownstein, and other attendees included Israeli Consul-General Ziv Nevo Kulman, Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather and his chief of staff Bonnie Feigenbaum, Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg, and other MNAs — including Mont Royal’s Pierre Arcand — and Côte St. Luc council members, amongst many others.