Montreal city council meetings run a liitttttttle bit differently than anything else we at the Chronicles have seen. So naturally, I wanted to get an explanation from longtime councilor and deputy mayor Mary Deros. We dove deep into public commenters, language differences–and even shared a musical interlude!
Q: Councilor, unfortunately my translator canceled at the last minute, so I’ll have to use a French-English dictionary. Bear with me…ahem. Merci madame de parler…avec moi…sur le podcast—
A: Michael, I speak English.
Q: Oh! Thank god. Well, your council meetings are conducted primarily in French. Is there a stigma against speaking English at the meetings?
A: No, they can address us in English or in French and the members can respond in either English or French.
Q: You have 65 councilors, which is the largest city council I’ve seen so far. And you also have political parties! Talk about how those two things affect how the meetings are run.
A: There’s the administration, which is a party of the mayor. Then you have the first opposition, then the second opposition. The standing committee members–made up of all parties–all sit together. We debate, we come to a consensus, and recommendations are prepared which are deposited at the following council meeting.
Q: One observation about your city council is that you do have your share of lawyers, business owners, and civic activists. But you have one councilor who is a singer, one who is a pianist, and your council president, Frantz Benjamin, is a poet. Is it easier for creative people to get elected in Montreal?
A: Frantz Benjamin is not just a poet–that is one of his many talents. You know, I like to sing as well. I’m not a professional singer, but that’s a hobby of mine.
Q: Will you sing with me?
A: Of course!
[Editor’s note: We then sang “O Canada.”]
Q: A big part of your city council meeting is “questions from citizens.” A person comes up, they can ask a question of any councilor, then the councilor responds. Where does this concept come from in Montreal?
A: It’s to be more democratic. Officially, a citizen can ask a question on whatever irks them, whatever they need answers to–or they’re frustrated.
Q: Some councilors field a lot more questions than others. Do you know beforehand if you’re getting a question?
A: Not necessarily. We receive the questions and the list of citizens just as we enter the council room. Most of the questions are asked to the mayor and the mayor has the right to redirect the questions to the members who hold the file [are in charge of the issue].
Q: I’ve gotta tell you, watching questions from the public is infuriating to me because it seems like so many people would rather make a point than ask a question. And they get belligerent when called out on it.
A: There are some citizens who are there several times and it’s always the same question. When they have the microphone, some citizens take advantage. If each citizen took more time than allotted, then they’re taking time away from others who are waiting in line. If it’s a first-time comer who’s not sure how to go about it, [Council President Frantz Benjamin] will help them along.
Follow Councilor Mary Deros on Twitter: @