Marc Demers undecided on whether to cancel Fête nationale

Martin C. Barry

Although major public events are being cancelled all over the world to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Mayor Marc Demers and other administration officials say they are waiting until next month to decide whether Laval’s Fête nationale will be taking place June 24, or what alternate celebration might be held instead.

An intense debate between administration and opposition councillors broke out during the April 7 city council meeting after a motion on the agenda called for the approval of a service contract between the City of Laval and the Corporation de la salle André-Mathieu (CO-Motion).

$662,256 contract

The non-profit corporation, which manages the municipally-supported events venue at Collège Montmorency, is set to be paid $662,256 to produce the Fête nationale show at Laval’s Centre de la nature in Duvernay.

Laval mayor Marc Demers, seen in this screenshot from the televised April 7 city council meeting broadcast on the internet, says his administration hasn’t decided yet whether to proceed with a costly Fête nationale event on June 24, or hold an alternative celebration instead.

Independent city councillor David De Cotis fired the opening shot during the debate. The meeting took place through teleconferencing, with most council members calling in over speakerphones, and only the mayor, council president Christiane Yoakim, and a few administration officials present at city hall.

Be responsible: De Cotis

“We know that the City of Montreal has cancelled many summer events up to July,” De Cotis said. “I think that here in Laval we should be doing the same thing. We will be spending more than $600,000 for a celebration that will last just one day.

“I think it would be more responsible to take that money and place it in a fund or something like that to help the families in Laval – maybe parents who have lost their jobs – who have no revenue coming in. I think it would be responsible for this year to take that money and put it aside and to help Laval’s families.”

No cancellation, says Demers

While Mayor Demers said the city has an option to cancel the agreement if CO-Motion finds itself unable to fulfill its obligations, he added that to postpone the payment to next month would be the equivalent of cancelling altogether.

To cancel immediately would not have the effect of saving the city money,’ says Demers

“To cancel immediately would not have the effect of saving the city money, unless we decided to contest certain things with CO-Motion,” he continued, noting that the city has enjoyed a longstanding partnership with the organization.

Respect contracts: Demers

At the same time, the mayor pointed out that Quebec Premier François Legault advised municipalities to try to respect their agreements with artistic events production companies, because of their importance to the province’s economy, “and they will be part of the strategy for the recovery,” he said.

Executive-committee vice-president Stéphane Boyer said that allotting the money won’t necessarily mean it will all be spent.

“What we are saying is let’s look for other opportunities, other possibilities to keep jobs in the cultural sector while maintaining celebration events, even though we understand that big gatherings are maybe not possible at that time,” Boyer said.

Planet has cancelled: Trottier

Official opposition leader Michel Trottier of the Parti Laval said he was baffled by the mayor’s claim that the issue was still under study.

“The entire planet has cancelled events from now up to the month of July, but in Laval we’re still analyzing,” he said. “This isn’t even a question. In my opinion, it would be irresponsible to hold the Fête nationale on June 24.”

Trottier noted that even the Jeux du Québec (for which the finals were set to take place in Laval) were recently cancelled, although they had originally been scheduled for August. “How is it we are holding an event a month before?” he said.

Says Demers ‘out of touch’

“I can’t believe what I am hearing,” said independent city councillor for Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Paolo Galati, adding that he agreed with what De Cotis said. “The mayor is really out of touch with reality. Everyone is suffering from this illness [COVID-19].

“Everyone is cancelling events, Montreal has cancelled up to July 2, and the mayor is still of the mind that it can take place,” he continued. “So I don’t understand. Things are different this year. We must cancel. It’s the recommendation being made by the experts.”

In the end, the 13 administration city councillors present during the meeting voted unanimously for the $662,256 payment, opposed by eight opposition councillors. As to what the city eventually decides, Premier Legault confirmed on April 8 that the two-metre distancing rule will be in place “for months,” he said, even after the re-opening of some businesses.

Legault has the final say

In his April 8 statement, Legault said the eventual resumption of social and economic activities will take place gradually. Companies will have to be flexible with regard to employee work schedules so that public transit won’t be overcrowded during traditional rush hours.

Premier Legault also acknowledged that his government and public health authorities are thinking over the possibility that schools and daycares won’t re-open before the end of the school year.

Martin C. Barry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for the Laval News,