By Robert Frank
Gone this year is the usual apathy about municipal politics during the summer doldrums.
With 74 days to go before the election, campaign posters have sprouted like mushrooms around Laval. Mayoral candidates have already started mudslinging, attempting to gain political advantage over one another.
The public has taken notice. In parks and recreational facilities, citizens can be overheard talking about various candidates.
High-profile allegations of collusion and corruption have, of course, fuelled their interest.
But another dynamic is in play in Laval—demographics.
It’s simply not the same city that Gilles Vaillancourt and his predecessors led into the election fray during the past few decades.
What’s even more remarkable is the pace of the change.
Driven by Montreal’s punishing taxes and dysfunctional civic administration—and attracted by better real estate values, quality of life and a booming economy—droves of Montrealers continue to relocate north, to Quebec’s third-largest city.
Non-francophone majority by 2016
Census figures from 2011 reveal just how profoundly that migration has, literally, changed the face of Laval: As reported in The Suburban, the city’s non-francophone population shot up by a third in just five years.
Though French remains, overwhelmingly, the city’s language of work, the non-francophone portion nonetheless rose from nearly 30 percent of Lavallois in 2006, to nearly 40 percent in 2011. If that trend continues unabated, non-francophones will comprise a majority of the population of Île Jésus, when the results of the 2016 poll are tallied.
The transition is already mirrored in the range of candidates who have already announced that they will be seeking election as city councillors. Mayoral candidates Robert Bordeleau (Parti au service du citoyen) and Jean-Claude Gobé (Action Laval) have already unveiled slates well-represented by political aspirants from the city’s burgeoning Greek, Italian, Lebanese and Haitian population. Guy Landry (Nouveau parti des lavallois) is expected to do likewise, later this week. Only Marc Demers slate (Mouvement lavallois) remains heavily weighted toward so-called old stock Quebecers.
What’s more, those communities’ votes are likely to matter more than ever before.
When Laval citizens last cast their ballot in 2009, less than a third of them bothered to vote. In contrast, the current heightened interest in city politics is almost certain to draw record numbers of residents to the polls, Nov. 3.
With five candidates running for mayor—and more in the offing—the competition will have a salutary effect.
Whomever they opt to give a mandate to guide Laval for the next four years, those elected representatives are likely to reflect a better slice of Laval’s demographics than ever before.
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