Laval holds its first-ever summit on diversity and ethnocultural inclusion

Work still needed to achieve equality, suggests city manager Jacques Ulysse

For the first time in its 56-year history, the City of Laval held a summit for diversity and ethnocultural inclusion on April 22, bringing together more than 400 participants on an online platform, while providing an open forum for speakers to express what were at times some very frank views.

Led by Francophone radio and TV host Rebecca Makonnen, the guest list included Quebec Minister for International Relations Nadine Girault, Environment and Anti-Racism Minister Benoit Charette, Sainte-Rose MNA Christopher Skeete, Mayor Marc Demers, executive-committee vice-president Stéphane Boyer and city councillor for Auteuil Jocelyne Frédéric-Gauthier.

D-G Ulysse speaks

While the provincial ministers, the mayor and other elected officials delivered remarks shedding light on the issues, a highlight of the meeting turned out to be an address by Laval director-general Jacques Ulysse, the city’s first Black general manager. Hired by Mayor Marc Demers three years ago, Ulysse grew up in Laval.

Mayor Marc Demers said the summit was useful in bringing together people from different backgrounds, while also allowing the city to explain the progress it has made towards achieving inclusion and racial diversity.

Although Laval is regarded today as one of the province’s most culturally diversified communities, Ulysse recounted that while growing up in Laval he was the only Black person at his grade-school, in high-school and while participating in team sports.

More efforts needed

“I am pleased to see that many years later, the City of Laval has truly become a diversified city,” said Ulysse, noting that in recent years the city has accelerated the pace to make greater efforts than ever to reach out to cultural minorities, while attempting to give them a stronger voice.

Quoting from a mission statement defining Laval’s aspirations over the next 20 years, Ulysse suggested that a fair amount of work still needs to be done to even the playing field for people of all races and cultural backgrounds.

Intention to action

While noting some key words in the mission statement referring to “aspirations which reflect the population,” he said that as director-general he was in a position to see that, despite the good intentions, “we’re not there yet, and we will have to double up our efforts in the coming years to get there. But believe me: the leadership and the will are there.”

‘We will have to double up our efforts in the coming years to get there,’ city manager Jacques Ulysse said of the work ahead to achieve multicultural equity

The summit provided an opportunity for City of Laval employees and department heads to showcase the various programs and efforts they’ve made in recent years to create a more accommodating environment for the many ethnic and cultural minorities that make their home in Laval.

‘The right track,’ Demers said

“For Laval, the holding of this event was important for two reasons,” Mayor Demers said. “Firstly, one purpose of this summit was to bring together citizens and partners around the issues raised by immigration, inclusion and ethnocultural diversity.

“Secondly, it allowed us to make an accounting of our achievements, including an assessment of what we have achieved in more than five years, while demonstrating clearly that we are on the right track towards actively favouring citizen participation and social inclusion.”

A ‘responsibility,’ said Boyer

Stéphane Boyer noted that Laval is currently the second most important city in Quebec for taking in immigrants. At the same time, he pointed out that the city has set aside $1 million this year alone on programs to encourage inclusion and diversity.

“This reality comes with a responsibility: that we do everything to make our city a model for living together,” he said. “And this with the constant support our partners and employees. This summit was an opportunity to renew our sense of determination to work towards favoring inclusion while struggling against discrimination.”