Montreal Mayor Applebaum
Montreal city councillors elected their temporary mayor, to replace Tremblay who had to resign, due to suspicions of being involved in the corruption scandal that rocks Quebec. Michael Applebaum will fill the vacancy for one year, until the next election on November 2013.
The Globe and Mail published an interesting interview by Ingrid Peritz in today’s paper that highlights the new mayor’s background. He is a business man with experience in a variety of sectors and started working at an early age in his dad’s business, learning from the ground up.
The significance of the first non Francophone in this position may or may not be played up depending on who you talk to. Fact is that Montreal is an international and multicultural city. Isn’t it about time that the other constituents are represented in leadership positions as well, so why not as mayor?
I have no idea about the city council composition and who were elected on council in the last elections. In essence, being perceived as an outsider might be a plus for the new mayor, as the last one was associated with, at least in people’s minds, the corruption that drove up the price of construction and public works with an estimated 30 to 40 percent according to the research quoted in the G&M interview. Mayor Applebaum’s name is of German/Yiddish heritage and means Apple Tree; the mayor is of the Jewish religion.
In Quebec politics it is said by outsiders of the main stream that many members of the Francophone population adhere to, and barely cover up ethnocentric–if not racist–attitudes, at least according to some Anglophones. The author Jan Wong, a Canadian of Chinese descent was ostracised and I believe fired from the G&M when she coined the phrase “pure laine” as signifying that attitude to be Francophone, (and not an Anglophone opinion) of Francophone attitudes, in a published article in 2006 about another subject.
Pure laine means 100% wool, a label often sewn in garments, in this context trying to describe an attitude that only the originally born French Quebeckers would truly represent Quebec. Implied was that immigrants from other countries who had not lived in Quebec for generations, especially when not Caucasian/originally French-born/Roman-Catholic, would be of lesser quality and would be second class citizens.
Infamous are the words in this context spoken by Jacques Pariseau then-leader of the separatist PQ who after losing the last referendum about whether to start an independent state: it was the money and the ethnic vote. By that he obviously meant the rich=business world (historically predominantly Jewish in Quebec) who supported the campaign against separation, and the ethnic vote=new immigrants/non-Caucasians/non-Christians.
According to a blogger (AngryFrenchGuy.com) it was Mr Stephen Harper, our current prime minister and head of the federal government, back then a (provincial) Reform Party MP of Calgary West, who first coined that sentiment in 1995 and used it to describe Quebeckers. I am very sure that the Anglophone world is just as racist as the Francophone; I have absolutely no doubts about that.
I would include all and any peoples of the world as potentially discriminatory of individuals or groups that are different from themselves. History tells us that and proves repeatedly to us that this is so. This is the human condition, it seems, and maybe in a far past it had evolutionary benefits. The only difference with then is that we as a species, as modern people, are aware, or should be aware of our prejudices: only then can we take steps to change it, and educate ourselves.[
As global citizens and multicultural Canadians, we cannot condone devaluation of our fellow citizens. When others show their racism, we have a moral duty to call them on it, when we are witnessing that others utter or act derogatory, even if these perpetrators are members of our own group.
It seems that since those days in 2006, Montreal for sure has moved ahead and multiculturalism is there to stay. The reality is that corruption among the “old guard” now is the trauma that all Quebeckers have to overcome.
The inquiry lead by the honourable Francis Charbonneau will unfold as it will and undoubtedly will shock many, while others might say in glee “I told you so”.
I am sure much more interesting material will be published in the future, as information comes out of the dark and put into the light during this inquiry. (The latest news from testimony was that the boss of a major construction firm paid kickbacks to the party of the former mayor of Montreal and that the mobsters involved also received a kick-back. Provincial and municipal politicians were involved, were allegedly aware of the practice, and approved.)
Michael Applebaum already heard a stereotypical reply by a former politician and now a (Francophone) media commentator to his new assignment: that as a Jewish person Applebaum would not be paying too much for anything, or something to that effect. Asked if he considered that ethnic stereotyping, he replied he was not bothered by it, as it was true that he came from the business community and proud of it, that he is who he is.
I am surprised that a modern journalist does not feel any hesitation to express a stereotype and, most likely, does not see anything wrong with it. I am also quite perturbed by the easy acceptance of the mayor that this should be so while in public office, as apparently those attitudes cannot change.
I completely enjoyed my brief stay in Montreal. I delighted in the gorgeous smells of the ethnic foods in the streets and the colourful crowds on their way to a restaurant or bistro, or just for a cup of coffee around.
I preferred walking around the many neighbourhoods with their own streets of food stores and speciality wares and their restaurants, all full of people. I was surprised that in other cities restaurants are half empty, but not so in Montreal. I thought it was genius to allow people to bring their own bottles of wine and that is apparently a very successful strategy in getting people to come out for a meal, as it keeps the costs down.
The much more relaxed rules about alcohol reminded me of Europe and my lovely vacations in the south: France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, and of course, in my native Amsterdam. In the last three decades since I left home, north African foods are richly represented through its settled immigrant population as a part of the Dutch community.
I see a need for further education among the mainstream in Quebec that should be offered to the current government as well, and in primary and secondary schools and colleges, trades schools, and universities: teaching about the value of multiculturalism, the nature and the manifestations of racism, discriminatory practices and stereotyping. Racism is hurtful and devalues entire populations.
The government budgets and contracting must be overseen and business practices need to be scrutinized by appropriate, independent bodies where citizens play a part as well. ‘Business as usual’ cannot be the future. Corruption undermines a society; it degenerates the trust of citizens in the government and its officials. It decreases participation by citizens in the democratic process as a result.
The government officials are not trusted and their officials and their practices looked at with distrust. I bet there is a vast underground economy as well. It would be wise to establish strict conflict of interest rules for government officials to re-establish some trust in the general public.
Ethnic communities need to be a part of the society as a whole and be invited, as well as First Nations, and must be included in decisions that pertain to them, on resources, education and business proposals that affect their particular reserves or communities.
I am looking forward to spending much more time in Montreal in the future and will report back in blog posts.