(Quebec) Dissatisfied with the measures announced by Minister Lionel Carmant, the mayors are relying on his Finance colleague, Eric Girard, to release significant funds and tackle the homelessness crisis. They also demand the involvement of the entire Council of Ministers.
“I often repeat that in the last 10 days, the message that we appreciated the most is undoubtedly that of Minister Girard,” immediately launched the president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec (UMQ) and mayor of Varennes, Martin Damphousse, speaking to the media during a press conference closing the Municipal Summit on Homelessness, Friday in Quebec.
During his presentation to an audience of mayors of Quebec cities, Mr. Damphousse once again cited the Minister of Finance, referring to an “influential minister” in the Legault government. “He said it clearly, the government, as part of its economic update, will have to add sums for adaptation to climate change, housing and homelessness,” listed the president.
Mr. Damphousse then took up the intentions of Minister Girard revealed during an editorial interview with The Press last week. The mayors are also demanding a summit meeting with the Minister of Finance before the presentation of his economic update expected in November. They also call for the creation of an interministerial committee on homelessness. They did not quantify their overall requests on Friday.
The mayors welcomed the special aid of 15.5 million released Thursday by Minister Carmant, but they remain unsatisfied. “We need more, we are insatiable,” argued the mayor of Quebec, Bruno Marchand.
This should not be seen as a disavowal of the Minister responsible for Social Services, assured Mr. Damphousse. Minister Carmant said he received the comments from the president of the UMQ “very well”. “Probably if one sees the need for money as being an important thing, he is more influential than me. But if we want to have the ideas, I think I am also influential,” he retorted.
After the confrontation, the tone was more collaborative on Friday. The welcome given to Mr. Carmant was polite, which contrasted with the atmosphere of the Municipal Summit on taxation, organized last week in Montreal. The minister presented an opening speech lasting around ten minutes. He reached out to cities and acknowledged his government needed to do more.
“I (have) heard you say since yesterday that the latest amounts (…) announced are not enough, that they are a bandage. I am well aware of that,” admitted Minister Carmant. “The amounts announced respond to an urgent need only (then) that we must tackle the causes of homelessness head-on,” he added. Mr. Carmant also announced that the next count will take place in 2024.
Everyone at the table
“(For homelessness), there is not a solution that will come only from a single man, from a minister,” explained Mayor Valérie Plante. “In this committee, yes, we want Mr. Carmant, yes, (the Minister of Housing) Mme Duranceau, but we also want the Minister of Finance, the Treasury, we want Mr. Fitzgibbon, we want the Prime Minister,” she added.
It’s good to be heard by Minister Carmant. But here, what we want is for it to go even further, for the entire government to take this head on to find real solutions.
Valérie Plante, mayor of Montreal
Minister Lionel Carmant explained Friday that this type of committee already exists within his ministry while he works in conjunction with the minister responsible for Seniors, his colleague at Housing and, if necessary, with the Minister of Public Security, notably. He said he was open to meeting more often with his colleagues. “I am motivated, extremely motivated to improve the situation,” he pleaded.
The absence of the Minister of Housing, France-Élaine Duranceau, was also deplored by Mayor Bruno Marchand who was questioned on the subject. “I can’t tell you if she was invited or not. All ministers were welcome. I think it’s been organized for six months, people know about it. If she wanted to be there, she could have been there. We would have rolled out the red carpet,” he said.
The pot to Trudeau
The president of the UMQ shot an arrow at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who threw the ball into the hands of the cities, Wednesday, when he was asked to justify the slow deployment of a federal fund dedicated to construction rapid housing. “We are waiting. Our hands are tied because we depend on an agreement between Quebec and the federal government,” lamented Mr. Damphousse.
Ottawa and Quebec must agree to receive sums from the Federal Fund to accelerate housing construction. Quebec should receive 900 million. Federal minister and Quebec MP Jean-Yves Duclos participated in the summit on Friday. In a statement sent by his office, it is indicated that “negotiations are continuing to release the sum dedicated to housing which will change lives, and we are impatient for this to materialize”.
Call to be “angry”
In a heartfelt speech to his counterparts in other cities, Bruno Marchand called on the political class to be “angry” about the homelessness crisis. His exit echoed the frontal charge led last week by his colleague from Gatineau, France Bélisle. On Friday, she reiterated that “in a healthy society, we still have the right to be outraged”.
“I think that when you have the privilege of having a public platform, it comes with a responsibility to say, even if sometimes you don’t like it. And the enthusiasm we see today confirms that we have shed light on a difficult issue,” she expressed.