Is the post-election civility beginning to fade on Laval city council?

Opposition blames ‘powerful executive-committee’ for environmental laxity

Just three months after the City of Laval’s municipal elections, can it be the honeymoon on city council is already over?

A week after election day last Nov. 7, newly-elected mayor Stéphane Boyer pledged during an address, following the swearing-in of the new council, that he would work pro-actively with all the city’s elected officials – regardless of their political affiliation.

Relations between the governing Mouvement lavallois majority and the nine opposition councillors have been remarkably amicable since the election for the most part.

Harmony for now

And indeed, in a display of collegiality not seen in years on Laval city council, Action Laval city councillor David De Cotis recently sang praises to Boyer following the mayor’s decision (in line with a recommendation by De Cotis) that the due dates for 2022 property tax payments would be postponed in order to give residents a needed break during the ongoing Covid pandemic.

Mayor Stéphane Boyer, right, seen here with alternate council speaker Yannick Langlois, left, during the Feb. 1 Laval city council meeting.

However, the ground shifted noticeably during the Feb. 1 city council meeting webcast, after Alexandre Warnet, the councillor for Laval-des-Rapides and an associate executive-committee member responsible for environmental issues, spoke regarding the city’s acquisition of more than 400 lots of land for the expansion of the future Rivière-des-Mille-Îles nature reserve.

Backhanded remarks

Warnet, a highly respected environmentalist, referred to the acquisition – which includes several islands in the back river – as “historic” event. Fabreville councillor Claude Larochelle of the official opposition Parti Laval, praised the current administration for its actions, while later taking a moment to lament, if somewhat ambiguously, that past administrations did far too little to save Laval’s natural spaces from development.

“This is great news,” he said, noting that Éco-Nature, the organization mandated to oversee the project, had been working on the file since 2009. “I take my hat off to them,” he said. It was not long after listing some of the many protections that now safeguard the zone from development, that Larochelle fired off remarks which ended up offending at least one council member’s ears, when he added:

Attacks executive-committee

“Basically, the only element these lots weren’t protected against, I would say – and that’s what the recognition as a nature refuge by the government of Quebec is going to do – is that those lots weren’t protected from the City of Laval and its powerful executive-committee.

‘Be more respectful in your tone towards the executive-committee,’ Desmeules shot back at Larochelle

“For forty years, it was the City of Laval and its powerful executive-committee that mistreated our river banks, leading to the destruction of our natural areas,” Larochelle added. “Even in the case of the administration in which Mr. Boyer was a member for two terms, woodlands, like the Boisée Notre-Dame, were swapped for parking lots. They tried to sell a woodland, the Trait-Carré, to develop high-rises to pay our debt for Place Bell. And so, honestly, there was some protection missing: Protection against our very own executive-committee.”

Desmeules demands respect

With that said, Councillor Sandra Desmeules (Concorde-Bois-de-Boulogne), a senior member of the executive-committee, objected to Larochelle’s remarks in a point of order.

“It’s alright to have an opinion, I have no problem with that, but to come and attack the work of the executive-committee and the current administration,” she said. “I would maybe invite you to keep your comments and to be more respectful in your tone towards the executive-committee.”

Although alternate council speaker Yannick Langlois asked Larochelle whether he wanted to strike his comments from the record, Larochelle stood by his words, saying Desmeules hadn’t taken offence at anything specific he had said. Larochelle insisted he was referring primarily to Laval city councils over the past 40-50 years, and not necessarily to any specific administration.

Black History Month

In his opening remarks during the meeting, Mayor Boyer noted the importance of marking Black History Month in order to underscore the contributions of people from Laval who are from the Black community.

“This is an important occasion not only for pointing out the contributions of members of the community in our history, who often opened doors over time, and who achieved extraordinary things, but who also were leaders and models for our youths to follow towards the future.”

Boyer extended an invitation to all residents of Laval to take part in some of the special presentations the city is holding throughout February to mark Black History Month.