Civic confidence top priority for Mayor Demers

By Beryl Wajsman
Editor, The Suburban

Laval Mayor Marc Demers spent thirty years in Laval’s police force including senior leadership in its major crimes unit. He is well-equipped to take on tough challenges. And he has shown himself up to the task of restoring confidence in Quebec’s third-largest city in near-record time.

His own life prepared him to overcome the hard challenges of life. He came from humble beginnings. Raised by a single mother, and one of many siblings, he learned from the lessons she instilled of education, discipline and resilience. And he succeeded.

Because of Mayor Vaillancourt’s resignation amid allegations of misfeasance, and two subsequent mayoral resignations, Demers became the fourth mayor in just over a year, and has quickly restored faith that he is not a passing phase. Civic confidence was his first priority, and he has achieved it.

Demers said during the campaign, and has proved it since, that he intends to be mayor of all Lavallois—francophone, anglophone and allophone. The fluently bilingual mayor pointed out in an exclusive interview with The Suburban that during his police career he chose to work in English, spending some seven years in Chomedy’s Station 12.

Demers has beefed up Laval’s English website and has openly expressed a commitment to increase English services to anglophone seniors. Demers’ revamping of Laval’s governance is sweeping and innovative. With a balanced budget, he has put in place a new city manager and a new police chief.

He has also dramatically changed the standards by which Laval’s 3,200 employees work. Demers hired leading municipal affairs law firm Dunton Rainville to establish and oversee new procedures for accountability and transparency. This has resulted in what can honestly be called the greatest administrative overhaul in Laval in decades. The memorandum of understanding it is based on is, itself, a 600-page document and affects 15 parapublic bodies.

Demers told The Suburban that, “We’re in the process of changing the mentality of government in Laval. Things will not just be done on a handshake anymore.”

Demers takes special pride in the route he chose to reorganization. He points out that the efficiencies he has instituted allowed him to accomplish many of his goals without the necessity of more hiring and the subsequent increased tax load that would mean. On a pro-rata basis of population, he believes his administration’s planning have saved Laval from the necessity of hiring up to 800 more people.

Though rebuilding and reforming the administration was job one, Demers knows that it’s not all about internals. He put it plainly and passionately that the interests of the city and its administrations can only be guaranteed by “an ongoing co-operation and involvement between citizens and the city. The city must be open, but the citizens must care enough to be engaged.”

To that end the city’s council meetings will go to live webcasts in 2015 and an ethics office has been set up open to the public and he has freed city lawyers to talk to ethics investigators.

Demers next big priority is the Place Bell arena. He is waiting for Quebec’s Treasury Board to approve the province’s contribution to partner with Laval’s and Evenko’s. Demers believes the project will produce benefits for the city for a generation and will be the centrepiece of Laval activity. Demers believes that though there are many components to Laval’s identity including its green spaces and artistic life, the Bell Centre should turbocharge stronger Laval identity and civic pride than anything that’s come along in decades.

He doesn’t see Laval in competition with Montreal. He points to his city’s own continued growing business sector and is concentrating on that. Laval’s excellent credit rating and financially solid public transit system has also allowed Demers to make good on an important election promise, one that other municipalities should copy: Free bus service for seniors.

Demers said that though Laval’s finances are in good shape, infrastructure has been ignored in the past ten years. He wants to change that, and to that end has ordered a new urban plan which should be complete within two years. He is also not afraid to take bold decisions such as cancelling the unpopular Commodore waterfront condo tower project that dwarfed the surrounding residential community. In 2015 Laval will also be reopening the Sainte Rose beach.

Demers long-term aim is clear. He puts it succintly. “Our goal is for our people to work, study and live here with the best that any city has to offer.”

He is off to a good start toward that end.

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