Stunning surplus of $555 million at city hall

Action Laval councilors rebuffed as Demers administration freezes taxpayers out of any returns or tax reductions

Stunning surplus of $555 million at city hall
Renata Isopo

People, people, more curious people. At least 200 citizens crammed the June 4th Laval City Council meeting. The opposition, under David De Cotis’s leadership, invited taxpayers to attend the session in support of Councillor Michel Poissant’s request to freeze municipal taxes for the next two years. Laval sits on $555.2 million surplus, and $42 million retrieved from the financial misdealings of former Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt’s administration.

Booming treasury

According to Poissant, Laval coffers have accumulated excess funds over the years. To him, it demonstrates lack of consideration by the Demers administration for the middle class already among the highest taxed in Canada. “Worrisome indeed,” stated Poissant who jumped the Demers ship, joining Action Laval, last March.

Last month, Poissant moved for a two-year residential tax freeze as of 2020.  At this past week’s meeting, the debate didn’t hit the table until 11:00 pm, since it was arguably declared out of order. Council chair Christiane Yoakim denied comments or questions on the surplus. The issue finally emerged, following the Ordre du Jour, a seemingly endless agenda.  By then, most attendees had left the meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, Councilor De Cotis was asked by a citizen when the tax freeze would take effect. “It should take place today for two years, even four, there’s a way to freeze taxes,” he responded, before the chair cautioned that his time was up, ordering him to sit down.  “Absolutely not,” retorted De Cotis, standing ground, invoking his right to speak as an elected people’s representative. Heated confrontation ensued, tension evident in the crowd.

Indirect returns to taxpayers?

Mayor Demers, in his defense, stated that some accumulated funds are being dispersed among Laval children in different forms.  He did not specify amounts or organizations. He did add that “money is already given back in free transportation for seniors.” Councilor Stéphane Boyer stated, “There must be a tax distinction. $42 million (from Vaillancourt) only comes once, and that goes fast.”

Reference of expenditures was made to roads, parks, street drains, at $400,000.  $45 million for the next ten years was quoted. Councilor Poissant quickly responded, but he too was shot down. “You don’t have the floor, Mr. Poissant, please sit down.”  Poissant’s body language spoke tons.

The opposition persisted, launching a war of words with the chair, with Councilor Paolo Galati joining De Cotis and Poissant in the fray. The heat was on. Demers reminded De Cotis that the budget was examined together.  “What will it cost to resolve all the problems brought here?” the Mayor asked. De Cotis, attempting rebuttal, was again silenced by chairperson Yoakim whose plea amounted to – “Are you trying to make my life difficult?” 

Poissant pointed to financial documents citing figures which would substantiate tax freezing. “Why are you only looking at current accounts?” asked Demers. Councilor and STL (Société de Transport de Laval) president Erik Moras told the mayor there was no mention of a Laval Metro extension. “The project ends in Montreal.” De Cotis added “It isn’t in the plan, not that it isn’t intended.”

Councilor Claude Larochelle proposed an amendment to Poissant’s motion, a one-year freeze for 2019-2020.  “Not a good idea to do it for two years since the budget isn’t known.” Poissant responded that 95% of the budget is always known in advance, giving the Demers administration a lesson in accounting.

The one-year amendment was defeated, as was the two-year motion. Unsurprising to the Opposition, the depleted Demers group which still enjoys a sizeable majority on Council unanimously blocked the tax freeze.

Tempers flare, citizens livid

The June meeting was laced with multiple complaints from various sectors of the Laval citizenry, including council members. At question period, Councilor Galati angrily demanded that the chair apologize for stopping a citizen from repeating a question.  “It’s lack of respect. Apologize to that gentleman,” he shouted. No apology came.

Parent Namouner Rabah complained of discrimination and intimidation by Chomedey Soccer Club against his child who wasn’t allowed to play and wasn’t given an explanation. He told TLN that city hall, aware since last November, has done nothing, his phone calls unreturned. 

Action Laval member and candidate Vivianne Monette pointed out that Equinoxe Levesque’s zoning isn’t respected. “There are urgent issues, Mr. Mayor. You did nothing, and that makes you no better than the Gilles Vaillancourt gang. Actions talk, not empty words. This has become a long and complicated dossier because of negligence.  Mr. Mayor, I assure you that if you don’t act within the law, you will find me in your way, and your masks will fall,” she warned. Several other citizens’ complaints also seemed to fall on deaf ears.