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

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Interview #7: Toronto, ON Councilor Shelley Carroll

No one is better equipped to give us the director’s commentary on the Toronto city council meeting than longtime councilor and Twitter powerhouse Shelley Carroll.

She told me the scoop on Rob Ford, council drama, and her fantasy hockey team.

Q: How many people usually show up to watch? And follow-up question: how many moose usually show up?

A: It’s been a while since we’ve had a moose. In terms of how many “municipal nerds” are there–

Q: Your phrase, not mine.

A: We have a lot of bloggers–the councilors call them Twitterati. There’s about a dozen of them. If we’re doing something with taxis or Uber, there’s 500-600 people in there. The lowest it ever gets is around 50-70 people.

Q: You are the deputy speaker. I saw what the speaker does and it looks exhausting. What does the deputy speaker do?

A: In my case the deputy speaker doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot.

Q: Nice!

A: The speaker you saw is very, very possessive about being in that chair. She had a rough time during the Rob Ford years. She asked to be speaker again under a new mayor and it was a tough vote. She almost didn’t make it. She is doing a pretty good job with a pretty crazy council.  But I’m lucky if I get to be in the chair ten minutes a day.

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Toronto, ON Councilor Shelley Carroll

Q: Oh boy, you mentioned He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Obviously the Rob Ford scandal was a tough time for everyone–except late night comedians. After the crack-smoking news got out, were council meetings more hostile?

A: Definitely. Oftentimes he wan’t the most hostile force in the room. His brother was.

Q: When the council was debating what to do with Rob Ford, one reporter tweeted this:

Is that true?

A: Yeah. By the time we were taking his powers away, it was petty on all sides. I’ve been in office since 2003. That two weeks leading up to taking Rob’s powers away were the most “together” council has ever been. He was just completely humiliating us. That was right after he said the horrible thing about his wife to the media.

Q: I saw the video, yes.

A:  I spent a lot of time on Twitter inoculating myself from their bullying.  “Don’t mess with me or I’ll tweet it!”

Q: Are there any councilors you do not like? You don’t have to name–

A: Giorgio Mammoliti.

Q: Noted. Now, suppose the Montreal city council challenged you to a game of hockey. Which five Toronto city councilors would you pick for your team?

A: Oddly, I probably would take Giorgio Mammoliti. He would throw them for a loop the whole time.

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We’d probably match them wit for wit, so we’d have to take Gord Perks.

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I would take Janet Davis. Councilor Davis is obsessed with reading every word of every report. She would read about a year’s worth of every agenda in the Montreal council. She would lay waste to them.

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We’d take Josh Matlow because he’s a part-time Montrealer and he would beat them on their own level.

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My one more pick, I would take Joe Cressy. He’s just the youngest and most nimble person on council. So he would whip their ass athletically.

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Q: I’m a bit surprised that a Canadian just said “ass,” but I’ll let it slide.


Follow Councilor Shelley Carroll on Twitter: @shelleycarroll