Interview #66: Ottawa, ON Councilor Michael Qaqish (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Michael Qaqish is in his first term on the Ottawa city council and we had a lot to talk about: his appearances on the “Man Panel” and “Fun Friday,” but also his thoughts on bilingualism, distractions, and protesters in the council chamber.

Q: Do you know when you are on camera in the meetings and think about how to come across best on TV?

A: Yeah, it’s funny because I sit on the left side of the table. The camera is usually in my left corner so I never get picked up. I don’t get much on the camera, but we’re all sort of aware. I’ve also had photos snapped of me at committee or council where I didn’t realize they were, so sometimes we’re not necessarily staring at the media.

Q: In the U.S. there are certainly politicians who are obsessed with their image, watching hours of cable news while sitting in the White House (not naming names). Do you ever go back and look at council meeting videos or media coverage of yourself?

A: I want to learn from what I see: am I doing it right? Do I look okay? Do I speak fast, slow? So whenever I do an interview I try to catch it and improve. Do I watch council videos? No, I don’t! [Laughs]

Q: What behavior do you sometimes see in council meetings that grinds your gears?

A: One of the things I don’t like is when people around the table or in the audience start talking and–especially when somebody says something and they don’t agree with it–they start, “ugh!” or making noises and starting to have side conversations. Whenever I have an opportunity to raise it with a chair of a committee or someone else, I do take the opportunity to raise that.

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Ottawa, ON Councilor Michael Qaqish

Q: I noticed something that disturbed me: your councilors sometimes speak in English one minute and then in French the next. Please explain to me–IN FRENCH–why you guys can’t pick a language!

A: [Laughs] Well, my French is not as advanced as some of my other colleagues. We have a couple of Franco-Ontario colleagues. I was taking French classes and I took a break in the summer. Bilingualism is part of our culture.

Q: Do you think the councilors who switch to French know they’re doing that? Does it serve a purpose?

A: Some of the councilors are French. Councilor [Mathieu] Fleury has a lot of [constituents] whose first language would be French. For some of them it’s a personal thing because they want to maintain the langauge. But for some of them it’s to let their residents know–who are predominantly French–that they are asking questions in French as well.

Q: In the meeting of April 13, 2016, there was a lengthy discussion about how to regulate Uber. But one angry taxi driver stood up and yelled at you all for nearly two minutes. Do you guys have security there?

A: We do have security. Those situations are always tricky because on the one hand, you don’t want to create a scene. But give them a couple of minutes to vent and it’s done. He wanted to get something off his chest and he did. I think it’s okay for people to vent. We didn’t need security–the people around him were telling him to calm down.


Follow Councilor Michael Qaqish on Twitter: @QaqishPolitico

#110: Dieppe, NB 6/12/17

Something seemed off about the Dieppe city council meeting.

At first, I figured that the glass of wine I was drinking had reacted poorly with the five glasses of wine I just finished drinking. But then I realized: the audio was out of sync. And the reason was shocking.

They were speaking FRENCH!

“Without further ado, dear colleagues,” an offscreen translator spoke for Mayor Yvon Lapierre, “may we have the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Lapierre shifted his eyes and cracked the tiniest of grins after no one from the audience accepted his invitation to speak. “It’s fairly calm tonight.”

So calm, in fact, that the creation of the brand new “Elsliger Street” passed unanimously without question or comment. The mayor, however, jumped in with une petite commentaire.

“Somebody during the week asked me, ‘Elsliger? Where does it come from?’ Well, it’s in honor of the woman who suggested the name Dieppe: Madame Agnès Elsliger.”

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Photo not available. But this is probably what she looked like.

From here, the meeting veered away from honoring old ladies into talking about…drugs.

“To DieppeMAG, they put the phone number for people who find syringes or needles,” trumpeted Councilor Patricia Arsenault, brandishing a copy of the magazine with a bicycle-riding child on the cover. “All they have to do is call that number to make sure that somebody’s going to take care of those things.”

But in fact, there is no hotline to call for another looming menace: Mary Jane. (Or, in French, Marie Jeanne.)

“All this is going to become legal on the First of July, 2018,” Councilor Arsenault warned. “The Medical Society of New Brunswick says it would be nice if we could increase the age to 21 years old.”

Legal marijuana for people under 21? Healthcare for everyone? Canada truly is a backwards county.

“Lastly, as a little puff of fresh air,” Arsenault smiled, perhaps intending that very clever pun, “a young 17-year-old Acadian launched his first CD.” She held up another newspaper with the budding artist’s picture.

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Imagine how many CDs he’ll put out with legal marijuana

“I hope that my shirt shows that it’s summer,” Councilor Jordan Nowland suddenly gestured to his Jimmy Buffet-style top.

“It would be a good idea to put EpiPens in public places,” he suggested. “Somebody who has an EpiPen–it can last for 20 minutes. This is where the second one, publicly accessible, would make a big difference.”

Between syringes, marijuana, and EpiPens, the city may soon have to rename Elsliger Street to “Medical Supplies Boulevard.”

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Ready to luau

Mayor Lapierre glanced askance at Councilor Jean-Marc Brideau. “Why the laughter, Monsieur Brideau?”

The bearded councilor looked fondly at a Canadian police officer sitting up front with arms folded. “I’ve been five years on council and I’ve always complained that we didn’t see the RCMP in Dieppe,” he chuckled.

“So I have to say, this afternoon, I had to had to wait to get out of my yard because there was a patrol car that had stopped right there!”

Well, if Councilor Brideau ever needs a police escort, they know where to find him.

Final thoughts: I give 8 out of 10 bowls of poutine to the English translator. Maybe next time he can get 10 out of 10 by doing the characters’ voices.

Interview #39: Montreal, QC Councilor Mary Deros (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM and right here:

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.”]

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Montreal, QC Councilor Mary Deros

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: @maryderos