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Ensemble Montréal has tossed the bocce back in Projet Montréal’s court.
Councillors on the opposition side of Montreal city council chambers took turns criticizing the Projet Montréal administration of Mayor Valérie Plante on Tuesday for a surprise offer it made a day earlier to backtrack on Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough’s decision to stop paying the $211,000 rent on a bocce centre that caters to 450 seniors if two neighbouring boroughs — where Ensemble Montréal has the majority — agree to pay an equal share of the rent.
The mayors of the two neighbouring boroughs, St-Laurent and Montreal-North, said that Ahuntsic-Cartierville, where Projet Montréal has the majority, is opening a Pandora’s box by trying to pressure other boroughs to finance its local services.
“I’m ashamed and I’m disappointed,” Mary Deros, an Ensemble Montréal councillor in the borough of Villeray—St-Michel—Parc-Extension, said in council during a debate on her party’s motion calling on the city to support the Club de bocce l’Acadie and find a location where its members can play their sport indoors for the next five years.
The members of Projet Montréal, including Plante, voted against the Ensemble Montréal motion, defeating it 30 votes to 25.
“How many of you have grandparents?” Deros said, looking across the chamber at the members of Projet Montréal. “How many of you have aging parents? … Please, take responsibility and find the $200,000. It’s a shaving off your budget, for God’s sake. Find the money and give these people a quality of life.”
Members of the Club de bocce l’Acadie, many of whom are over 75 years old, protested outside Montreal city hall on Monday as the monthly council meeting began.
Ahunstic-Cartierville borough has paid the full rent on the privately owned bocce centre on Acadie Blvd. for the last 20 years.
In August, borough mayor Émilie Thuillier informed the club that Ahuntsic-Cartierville will stop paying for the centre as of Dec. 31, saying the rent is too expensive for a place catering to a single activity. The borough later extended the deadline to next July and told the bocce club to find sponsors to pay the rent beyond then. The borough is instead offering the club the shared use of a room in a community centre and a room in a church basement so members can engage in “golden-ager” activities like bingo and cards. However, the rooms don’t accommodate bocce.
During council question period on Monday, Jérôme Normand, an Ahuntsic-Cartierville councillor and a member of Projet Montréal, declared his borough would be willing to pay $60,000 of the annual rent on the bocce centre for the next five years if St-Laurent and Montreal-North put up equal amounts. The remaining $30,000 of the rent would come from the seniors, who offered months ago to raise that much toward the rent but were turned down by Ahuntsic-Cartierville.
“It’s surreal, this offer,” St-Laurent borough mayor Alan DeSousa, an Ensemble Montréal councillor, said outside council chambers on Tuesday.
“It’s like if the city’s asking other boroughs to pay for what’s happening within a particular borough. I don’t do that. I have a football club in St-Laurent where a number of the players come from other boroughs. We don’t want these kids to play on the streets, so we invite them to continue to play whether they live in St-Laurent or not. There are many other recreation events where we get residents from other boroughs registering for painting, ceramics and other activities, and we’re quite willing to open our arms and welcome them. And we don’t try to play politics and hold people hostage, as is currently being done (with the bocce club).”
DeSousa also noted that Ahuntsic-Cartierville ended 2021 with a $4.8-million budget surplus.
“Émilie Thuillier is throwing a desperate Hail Mary bocce ball, hoping to extricate herself and her administration from the mess that she got herself into,” he said. “She should have the courage to recognize that she made a bad decision that affects the senior citizens in her community, and she should have the humility to reverse it immediately.”
However, Normand countered that inter-borough collaboration is not inconceivable. Montreal-North and Ahuntsic-Cartierville are developing a project for a library that would be financed by both boroughs, he told council.
“Over 20 years, Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough has swallowed between $4 million and $5 million to pay the rent for the bocce club for its sole use,” Normand said on behalf of Projet Montréal during the debate on the Ensemble Montréal motion.
“The opposition seems to be rejecting outright the proposal and … in less than 24 hours, which is surprising,” he said.
But Giovanni Rapanà, an Ensemble Montréal councillor in Rivière-des-Prairies—Pointe-aux-Trembles, called Normand’s proposal from Monday “a little Machiavellian” and said Projet Montréal is making seniors pay for political discord.
The members of Équipe Anjou party, including Anjou borough mayor Luis Miranda, the members of Équipe LaSalle Team and independent councillor Serge Sasseville, who has a seat in Ville-Marie borough, voted in favour of Ensemble Montréal’s motion.
“Taxpayers pay taxes to receive services,” Miranda said in council. “I was surprised to hear that we ask one borough to contribute to pay for the services in another borough. By this logic … I have installations (in Anjou) that serve my neighbours. I’ll be obligated to ask them to pay compensation.”
Miranda also compared the costs of different municipal installations, suggesting the $211,000 for the bocce centre isn’t unreasonable. The annual maintenance cost for an arena is $800,000 to $900,000, he said, adding that it works out to about $800 per user.
“We can’t quantify how much a bicycle path costs for the number of users,” Miranda said.
Some of the opposition councillors raised the property taxes paid to the city by the owner of the Ahuntsic-Cartierville bocce centre, which they argued offsets some of the rent paid by Ahuntsic-Cartierville.
Montreal assessment records show the owner’s 2022 municipal tax bill was $38,355.
When asked about the taxes in October, Thuillier told the Montreal Gazette the tax payment goes into city coffers, while the borough pays the $211,000 rent out of its local budget.
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Projet Montréal is playing dirty with bocce proposal, opposition charges
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