Parks, parking and a referendum on Montreal bilingualism: mayoral candidates make their pitches

Mayoral candidate Balarama Holness plans to ask Montrealers if they want a referendum on language if he’s elected on Nov. 7.

The Mouvement Montreal leader said Montreal can be bilingual while still protecting the French language.

“So whether you are a small business, whether you’re a new immigrant, whether you are a resident of the city of Montreal, you can have your opinion heard,” he said.

“We will determine if Montrealers want to hold a referendum to define the official languages here in Montreal.”

The City of Montreal charter is clear that Montreal is a French-speaking city, and the mayor can’t unilaterally change that.

Holness said, however, that he believes he could take referendum results to the National Assembly, which would have no choice but to listen, in his view.

Projet Montreal leader Valerie Plante, meanwhile, wanted to speak on Tuesday about her plans to revitalize downtown.

That includes spending $1 billion by 2030 to create more urban parks, plant thousands of trees, convert certain office buildings into housing and offer free parking on evenings and weekends.

“We need to invest in big projects that embellish, that make our city better,” she said.

As far as official bilingualism goes, for Plante, it’s a non-starter.

“[That’s] the most divisive idea that we’ve had since the 1995 referendum,” she said. “I feel we’re in a time where people need to work together.”

Ensemble Montreal leader Denis Coderre wanted to talk about his green plan, which also includes planting more trees, particularly in low-income areas, as well as taxing parking lots.

“There’s no Plan B for the planet, and to do so we need to take our responsibility,” he said.

Coderre said he also has no time for a referendum on bilingualism in the metropolis.

“I’m against it,” he said. “I think it’s too divisive and I think Montreal is a Francophone metropolis.”

Holness said he’s been having trouble making his case for a bilingual status because he keeps getting shut out of mayoral debates.

He said, however, that the reality is Montreal is already unofficially bilingual and it should be formally recognized as such.