A look back at 2023: Part 2

Although it may sound like somewhat of a cliché, ‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire’ might be the expression that best describes the overall mood last year.

After nearly three years of living through the Covid pandemic, a lot of people probably expected they’d be going from a bad situation towards some improvement.

But what with galloping inflation, shaky investment markets and new wars threatening to destabilize the world, 2023 turned into a year when it was hard to believe things would ever get back to normal.

July 2023

Opposition parties agreed: New park needed in downtown Laval

The vacant lot downtown owned by the City of Laval was selected as the site for a new municipal library building. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Laval News)

In a relatively rare instance of agreement, Laval city council’s two main opposition parties and a third political entity without council seats all agreed that a vacant lot owned by the city in Laval’s rapidly growing downtown sector should be used for a badly-needed public park, rather than for a library as planned by the Boyer administration.

The lot, on Jacques Tétreault St. and a short distance from the Montmorency Metro, had been singled out by the city as the location for a new municipal library building with a cultural centre.

However, the three parties as well as some residents in the mixed commercial/residential area believed it would be wiser to establish a park because of a local lack of green space in an area over-saturated with asphalt and concrete.

Two local members of the Quebec National Assembly, two Laval city councillors and an eminent neurosurgeon met at a Laval-area park to throw their support behind a province-wide campaign to encourage all children and adults to wear protective helmets to safeguard against the devastating effects of head injuries.

“Although we are proud of the cutting-edge care that our entire team is able to offer to patients who have suffered a head injury, the best defence remains prevention,” said Dr. Mathieu Laroche, a neurosurgeon at Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur in Cartierville.

While the crowds were somewhat thinner than usual, a steady downpour of rain during the late afternoon on Canada Day didn’t deter some patriotic Laval and greater Montreal residents from celebrating the country’s birthday, as they got back in touch with their cultural roots at the 2023 Laval Hellenic Summer Festival.

Suspected professional shoplifters believed to be connected to organized crime in Romania were arrested this month in connection with the theft of more than $70,000 worth of merchandise in Quebec. Officers with the Laval Police made the arrests and were encouraging shopkeepers to report similar thefts that may also have been committed by the suspects.

August 2023

Delayed sunshine made up for two days of rain at the Symposium de Ste-Rose

Although two days of rainfall put a dent in the usually strong attendance at the Symposium de Ste-Rose, abundant sunshine on the art exhibition’s last day made up for the shortfall.

Impressionist landscape painter Serge Nadeau from Disraeli in Quebec’s Eastern Townships was among the artists who travelled from far to take part in the 2023 Symposium de Ste-Rose. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Laval News)

The annual three-day artists’ gathering and exhibition drew thousands of appreciators of fine sculpture and exquisite art from all over Quebec as well as other parts of eastern Canada.

“I have to admit that things haven’t been great over the past two days and I was a little discouraged,” Oprina Felicia Dolea, the president of the Corporation Rose-Art which organizes the symposium, said in an interview with the Laval News on day two. “However, they are calling for sunshine tomorrow so let’s hope,” she added.

When Nathalie Seukpanya, whose two children attend Crestview Elementary School in Chomedey, saw that students with autism needed a new tool to help improve communications, she set out along with other parents to find a practical and affordable solution.

The one-of-a-kind bilingual communication board they came up with, made from a rigid durable material and weatherproof for Laval’s challenging weather conditions, held the potential to transform the way children with autism engage and communicate in their educational environment.

“Basically, the board helps them communicate with their educators and their peers,” Seukpanya said in an interview with The Laval News.

In a bid to obtain financial aid from Ottawa’s Housing Accelerator Fund, the City of Laval said it had made a formal application to the federal government for $102 million in order to answer increasing housing needs here.

In a statement the city issued, it noted that funding from the Housing Accelerator Fund must pass through the Quebec government first before being transferred to municipalities and that the logistics of the transfer were yet to be announced.

Chomedey resident Jacob Abramson’s son, Marc, also from the neighbourhood, sent The Laval News reports of his work as a “Helitack Crew Chief,” fighting fires in Manitoba last summer. (Helitack stands for Helicopter Transport Initial Wildfire Attack.)

Large areas of Western Canada were engulfed in wildfires last year and Marc Abramson was at the front where all the action was.  He was stationed in the Paint Lake region of North East Manitoba about 750 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

September 2023

Canadian Forces parachuters drop in at Souvenir Elementary

Shortly after 8 am one day in early September last year, when the students would normally be arriving to begin their day, a phalanx of the Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team – better known as the SkyHawks – jumped out of a small plane hovering around 2,500 feet over the Souvenir Elementary School yard and made a gradual parachute drop into the centre of the field – getting the academic year off to an exciting start.

The 17th annual FILIA Walk a Thon on Sept. 16, which was also the fourth held in Laval, drew a loyal following of FILIA supporters, as well as elected officials who have provided help to the organization over the years.

It was a good day for a refreshing walk in and around the streets surrounding St. Norbert Park in eastern Chomedey, in order to raise awareness of the needs of senior citizens – which includes regular physical exercise.

Laval city councillor for the district of Souvenir-Labelle Sandra El-Helou, an associate member of the executive-committee, said she was focusing increasingly on FILIA, as well as on how the group can help the city meet Laval senior citizens’ needs.

“Every year I come to the walk to show my support for FILIA and also to thank them for the amazing job they do on the ground with our elderly population,” she told The Laval News.

In her final report as the City of Laval’s auditor-general before reaching the end of her 7-year mandate in December, Véronique Boily singled out the Laval Police Dept. for having insufficient controls over motor vehicle fuel purchases made with city credit cards, while taking into account the volume of purchases last year.

“The controls exercised by the Police Department are clearly insufficient for the volume of purchases, which amounted to $1.5 million in 2022,” Boily’s department stated in a summary of her report.

The report also pointed out that the city’s fuel card management system “lacks rigor since there is no mechanism to ensure that active cards are associated with vehicles in service.” The report noted that the city had not carried out monitoring activities or implemented appropriate corrective measures in light of the credit card issues.

The Al Sultan, a Middle Eastern-style restaurant familiar to many because of its strategic location on Curé Labelle Blvd. just north of the Cartierville bridge, became the focus of an arson investigation on Sept. 21 after an unidentified suspect tried to start a fire outside the establishment around 1:30 am. (The restaurant was finally destroyed by fire after another arson attack later in the year.)

October 2023

At work and play, meet Fabre MNA Alice Abou-Khalil

In a wide-ranging interview a year after first being elected to the Quebec National Assembly, CAQ MNA for Fabre Alice Abou-Khalil told The Laval News she was on the verge of persuading the Legault government to build at least one new high school in Fabre to meet the needs of an expanding population that included a large number of families.

An avid enthusiast for physical activities, including bicycling and roller blading, Fabre CAQ MNA Alice Abou-Khalil said she needs the workouts to make up for all the sitting-down time spent at the Quebec National Assembly. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Laval News)

“In Fabre there is no école secondaire – there is no high-school,” Abou-Khalil pointed out. “I’m pushing for it,” she said. “But I can’t push if the student numbers are not there as required to build one. I’m not making any promises. But the discussions are there.”

In the meantime, as far as Chomedey Liberal MNA Sona Lakhoyan Olivier was concerned, until you’ve actually served as a member of the Quebec National Assembly, you can’t have a real idea of just how demanding the job is.

Lakhoyan Olivier was back in Laval one afternoon this month for the Thanksgiving long weekend, after spending the previous week in Quebec City working on National Assembly business.

In her role as MNA for Chomedey, Lakhoyan Olivier said she was worried about the riding’s situation with regards especially to the rising number of homeless people, and the challenging security problems they are beginning to generate.

The federal government should build two new military bases in Canada’s Arctic – including one with a deep-seawater port – to boost the country’s presence in its farthest northern regions, while also honoring a commitment to help maintain global peace, former Quebec Liberal Premier Jean Charest suggested during a talk at Concordia University on Canada’s prospects as a “middle-power.”

“Sovereignty over the north and the Northwest Passage in particular for me is an emerging development and an emergency issue,” said Charest, whose Liberal government launched the northern-Quebec-focused Plan Nord in 2008, with an eye to opening up the province’s far northern reaches for industrial/ economic development.

A cooking fire in Chomedey left six families homeless. According to authorities, the blaze started around 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 in the basement unit of a six-unit apartment building on 80th Ave. near Perron Blvd. Other units in the building were damaged by smoke, and for that reason, occupants were not be able to return for several days.

November 2023

Vimy Liberal MP Annie Koutrakis marked her fourth year in office

Four years after first being elected as the Member of Parliament for the Laval riding of Vimy, Liberal MP Annie Koutrakis was recollecting on the two mandates she received, as well as some of the crises she found herself facing.

Vimy Liberal MP Annie Koutrakis.
Vimy Member of Parliament Annie Koutrakis.

“So many differences – the world is a different place from when I was first elected in 2019,” she said in an interview with The Laval News. “It’s a real honour to have been entrusted with the portfolio that I have been,” added Koutrakis. “I have an amazing team of colleagues who are helping. We have an amazing staff.”

Quebec public sector union workers who walked off the job in late September, announced three more strike days for Nov. 21 to 23, unless a deal could be reached before then with the provincial government. Around 420,000 public sector employees were on strike as part of a walkout to protest the Quebec government’s latest contract offer.

The common front was demanding an increase of up to 20 per cent over the next three years. The impact of the strike was felt at public schools throughout the province, where teachers picketed and classes could only start by late morning or by the afternoon. A tentative resolution to the labour conflict was finally announced early in the new year.

The Laval Police said they arrested a person under the age of 18 in connection with a stabbing that took place near École secondaire Curé-Antoine-Labelle in Laval’s Sainte-Rose district. On the afternoon of Oct. 23, the LPD had rushed to Roi-du-Nord Park, in front of the high school, where a brawl between several people saw a teenager get stabbed. Although not life threatening, the victim’s wounds were serious.

Although Laval mayor Stéphane Boyer previously announced the 2024 property tax rate while emphasizing that the hike is less than the rate of inflation, there was no getting around the fact it was a whopping 4.8 per cent increase, even though that would only translate into $162 more on a house worth $440,742

In order to make ends meet next year, some serious cost-cutting would lie ahead, according to a statement issued by the mayor’s office. The mayor had already revealed that one way to keep expenses down next year would be to “greatly limit” new employee hirings,

December 2023

Canada positioned to dodge the recession bullet, said federal minister

Pondering the economic outlook for the coming year during an interview with Newsfirst Multimedia, Hochelaga Liberal MP Soraya Martinez Ferrada (the federal minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency in Quebec) maintained that since the country isn’t in a recession now, “that puts it in a good position” in terms of future investments, employment and economic renewal.

“Contrary to what some people might tell you or what Conservatives will tell you, that Canada is broke, Canada is not broken, Canada is in a good position,” she said, while acknowledging that “these are difficult times and we’re making sure that we will continue to support Canadians through this.”

Asked whether the government agrees with some economists’ forecasts that 2024 will see an economic downturn leading into a recession, Ferrada said, “Not at this moment. I think we’re looking at that very closely. But our economy right now is in a very good position.”

Shield of Athena’s Lilac Event, held on Nov. 17 at The Palace congress centre in Laval, drew 200 guests who had fun while supporting a great cause. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

For the last 32 years, when many women and children have been in crisis in the greater Montreal region, they turned to the Shield of Athena for help. With that in mind, a cross-section of supporters from the community came together this month to raise $150,000 to help fund Shield of Athena’s biggest expansion to date: the Second Step Shelter, which is being built in Laval.

The Shield of Athena’s Lilac Event, which was held at the Palace Convention Centre, celebrated the work the Shield and its staff conduct on a daily basis. Set to open in 2024, the Second Step shelter will have 17 apartments which will be able to house women and children for up to two years.

If you were hoping to get into the holiday spirit with Christmas less than three weeks away, there was still time to get over to Laval’s Centre de la Nature in Duvernay for the city’s 12th annual Marché de Noël.

Some fifty exhibitors will be offering their creations, including handmade crafts, jewellery, clothing, beauty products, decorations and delicacies. Some of Santa’s helpers were even on hand, making their way around while entertaining the moms, dads and kids.

While soaring inflation and labour shortages are just two of the issues currently afflicting restaurant operators in Laval, Montreal and the rest of Quebec, the province’s restauranteurs were cautiously optimistic about their prospects in the new year, although there were still problems to be worked out. The Association Restauration Québec (ARQ) had serious concerns about labour shortages, as well as customers who don’t show up after making table reservations, leading the RAQ to ask that they be penalized $20 in instances like these.