Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Montreal to express their fury about Quebec’s housing reform bill and “unfair” rent increases.
They also called for France Elaine Duranceau, the minister responsible for housing, to resign.
Park Extension resident Edward Fell was among the demonstrators. The septuagenarian is retired after a 50-year blue collar career. He lives off his pension and says his landlord is doing everything he can to raise his rent.
“That cheque is going to mean that I don’t get groceries for a month. I don’t go out for a month. I don’t pay my car insurance for a month,” he explained.
His situation is far from unique.
“Many people have been dealing with abusive rent increases. Many people are facing eviction in this neighbourhood,” said Amy Darwish of the Comité d’action de Parc Extension. “Others have to face routine harassment and discrimination from the part of their landlords.“
She said the Parc Extension has been dealing with accelerated gentrification since 2019 when the University of Montreal launched a new campus there.
“A lot of landlords started trying to force out long-term tenants, very much in the hope of being able to capitalize on wealthier people moving into the neighbourhood. It’s had really catastrophic implications for a lot of people who live here,” Darwish explained.
Situations like those she described are motivating many to march down Jean-Talon on a cold, rainy day. They also sent a clear message to Duranceau.
“We think she absolutely needs to resign,” said Darwish.
Duranceau is responsible for Bill 31, the government’s housing reform bill.
Housing groups are particularly upset that it will allow landlords to block lease-transfers. Opposition parties tried to get Duranceau to take that clause out of the new legislation, but earlier this week she officially decided to keep it in.
“It’s going to take away one of the few means that still exists to tenants to be able to support each other and keep rents low,” said Darwish.
The protesters also brought up how a just-released ethics investigation report found Duranceau gave preferential treatment to a friend that she ran a real estate business with.
“We often refer to France Elaine Dureanceau as the ‘housing speculation minister.’ I think it’s very, very clear whose side she’s on,” said Darwish.
Demonstrators fear Bill 31 will empower abusive landlords to impose even steeper rent increases on vulnerable citizens.
Fell learned he can refuse a rent increase, but says the owner of the building he lives in is still trying to increase his monthly payment without making any improvements.
“This guy has owned the building for a couple of years. He hasn’t had anybody come in and sweep it. He hasn’t had anybody come in and paint it. He hasn’t done anything,” he said.
The housing rights advocates encourage people to learn their rights. They will continue to try to stop the bill and say that this mobilization is only the beginning.
Duranceau did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.