A motion to improve diversity within Montreal’s city hall has sparked a war of words among elected officials.
One city councilor is being labeled as ageist, with the debate focusing on whether elected officials who stay in office for multiple terms cut the opportunity for new voices.
On Tuesday, veteran city councilor Marvin Rotrand introduced a motion during the council meeting asking political parties to change. The motion called on parties to commit to recruiting candidates from visible minority groups for next year’s municipal elections.
“We have the most elected officials in North America with 103 at council and borough councils and a very small number are visible minorities,” the 69 year-old Snowdon District representative explained.
During meeting, Peter-Mcgill representative Cathy Wong from the governing Projet Montreal party responded that it was ironic that Rotrand made such a motion, claiming that politicians like him are part of the problem.
“These same people hold on so tightly to their seats, mandate after mandate, decade after decade, and do not contribute the renewal of our council,” she told Global News
She argued that when career politicians like Rotrand, who is now in his 10th term in office, keep getting elected, diversity is narrowed by blocking others from running.
In response, some opposition members lashed out against Wong, accusing her of being ageist. Others say there should be no term limits for elected officials.
“If people are good and qualified and competent and the electorate appreciates them, the electorate always has the final choice,” said Alan de Sousa, mayor for the Saint-Laurent borough and a member of the opposition Ensemble Montreal party.
Those complaining about the lack of diversity at city hall say it’s a systemic issue that all parties need to address.
One of them, Fo Niemi, pointed out that though Rotrand has been around for decades, in some ways he represents diversity.
“Being a senior, being Jewish, being anglophone,” stressed Niemi, who runs the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, “that’s who he is. That’s also diversity.”
Wong argues she has no issues with Rotrand’s age or abilities. Instead, she says, it’s about making room for others, for different voices.
“I think that political parties and individuals and politicians have a responsibility,” she insisted.
Rotrand’s motion passed unanimously. He doesn’t know yet if he’ll run next year but hopes the parties are serious about making changes.