Posted in Montreal, Opinion

Sergakis’s ad turn and the development “loophole”

In Thursday’s Gazette, I noticed a mostly-text ad from the Station des Sports, signed by local … uhh … entrepreneur … Peter Sergakis, who owns the bar and many other bars around town. It was to thank people around the sports bar for supporting its plan to expand its footprint.

As you can imagine with these ads, there’s a lot of missing context. The project has been under fire recently because of Sergakis’s use of a “loophole” in the law that allows him to bypass a register (that could force a referendum on the subject if it gets enough signatures) by having more than half the people affected sign a petition.

The ad itself isn’t what surprises me, though. What’s interesting is that the ad turns onto a different page. Like newspapers that (used to, at least) start major articles on the front page and continue them inside, this one ends a colour ad on Page A3 with “advertisement continued on Page A8″.

Peter Sergakis ad for Station des Sports (Page A3 of Thursday's Gazette)

Part 2 of the same ad, from Page A8

Not something you see often in advertisements. Most likely this was done because A3 has colour and exposure but limits the space given to advertisers to ensure most of it is editorial copy.

Why is this a loophole?

Anyway, back to that loophole. In this city, if you don’t like a by-law change that affects the area immediately around where you live, you can sign a register to demand a referendum on the subject. If you get the required number of signatures, the city/borough must either hold a referendum or withdraw the project.

The “loophole” is a little-used way to get around this, by having more than half the people who would be able to sign that register and vote in that referendum sign a petition supporting the project. So if the area around a new development had 1,000 people, you’d need to get 501 to sign a petition and then there wouldn’t be a register or referendum.

The reasoning makes sense to me. If those 501 support the project, why bother having a referendum where they would, presumably, all vote no? How is this a “loophole”? Isn’t it just democracy at work.

I asked around, and the answers I got pointed to how ancient and unused this law is, and how it wasn’t designed to be used in this way (even the city admits that). I see that, but it hardly makes it undemocratic.

The other answers mentioned how unfair it is compared to the trouble one has to go through to force a referendum. The petition can be passed around over months, while registers are open only for a day. The petition can be brought to people’s homes, while registers can only be signed at borough offices.

On the other hand, though, far fewer people are required to sign a register to force a referendum than sign a petition to quash one. And again, if more than half the affected residents support the project, isn’t that still the will of the people? Or should the minority overpower the majority?

What’s left unsaid in calling this a “loophole” is the implication that those who sign petitions supporting projects don’t really support them. That they’re being fooled by people hired by developers to bribe people into signing petitions they don’t fully understand. That when exposed to the issues in a referendum, they would change their minds and vote against.

That’s not a far-fetched idea or a conspiracy theory. It’s a legitimate concern. And the process should probably be changed, both to ensure that people have better access to registers and to ensure that those signing petitions in support of a project understand the implications of doing so.

But don’t call direct democracy a “loophole” just because you disagree with a decision that you think is uninformed.

16 thoughts on “Sergakis’s ad turn and the development “loophole”

    1. Jim J.

      One might say the same about certain activist groups who do not care about niceties such as due process or individuals’ rights; they merely care about achieving their desired “results;” the means by which those results are obtained is of secondary importance.

      Reply
        1. Jim J.

          But contrary to businessmen, most activist groups’ goal is for the better good of Society.

          Well, I suppose that according to the activist groups, sure.

          I’ll assume that while you would no doubt sincerely state that your statement is an perfectly objective statement of fact, other, equally informed people might find it a rather subjective assertion of dubious veracity that is based on not much more than your own biases and prejudices.

          Reply
  1. Guillaume Theoret

    I don’t think people were misled with Sergakis’ petition. I know 3 friends that live around there all of whom signed the petition in favour. When they signed the petition they were even offered the plans for the new development. People could keep they plans too if they wanted. (One of my friends kept a copy.)

    Reply
  2. wkh

    I agree with everything you said. I also think it’s insulting to the people who sign the petition “clearly you’re stupid or you’d agree with my POV.” Also, since when does a signature need to be informed? The right to vote does not mandate being informed about it. You still have the right to go make binary code with your voter card if you like.

    Reply
  3. W.I. News

    same deal happening in Beaconsfield…
    ….council unanimously set a Sept. 29 date for a register regarding a zoning change to allow for a 46-unit seniors complex to be built on the Beaurepaire United Church property. However, proponents of building the Villa Beaurepaire residence next to the church are collecting signatures on a petition that, if signed by a majority of eligible voters who waive their rights to a potential referendum, will annul the need for the public register and the rezoning process will be given the green light. With 128 eligible electors in this case, 65-plus must sign the pro-rezoning petition and 24 signatures would be required at the registry to possibly force a referendum.

    Reply
  4. AlexH

    what is the punchline to that old joke? “when his lips are moving”.

    After reading the story, I feel I need to take a shower.

    Reply
  5. Marc

    So I guess Westcott Books, the sex shop and the key/bag/shoe repair place have been handed their death warrants?

    Reply
    1. David Pinto

      I have received conflicting reports on this angle of the matter.
      One person says that no decision has been reached on the future of the stores, which also include a Chinese restaurant. As for the key/bag/shoe repair place, it closed and has been replaced with one of those foreign exchange places.
      OTOH, another person says that the whole matter is a done deal and demolition will begin in FIFTEEN days.
      The confusing thing is that each of the two persons I have mentioned spoke directly to Sergakis.

      Reply
  6. Montreal Guy

    “What’s left unsaid in calling this a “loophole” is the implication that those who sign petitions supporting projects don’t really support them. That they’re being fooled by people hired by developers to bribe people into signing petitions they don’t fully understand. That when exposed to the issues in a referendum, they would change their minds and vote against.”

    ****

    But then the exact same thing can be said about those voting against a project. I don’t see this as a loophole any more than forcing a referendum is a loophole. If a majority support the project than a referendum shouldn’t be required.

    Reply
  7. MTLdude

    The reason why this is undemocratic is not solely because there are questions about whether or not the people who signed the petition were informed or not.

    The principal problem with this is that the city claims that it has no obligation to check whether or not any of these 1807 signatures are actually part of the 2800 registered voters.

    The demographic in the area shows that there is a huge percentage (even a majority)of people living there who are either technically not residents in the area or are not Canadian Citizens.

    Yet, apparently, the city does not even have to check whether or not the signatories were eligible to sign.

    Reply
  8. MTLdude

    There is a big thing that is not understood.

    Sergakis needed over 50% of 2800 eligible voters to sign his petition. He got 1807 signatures. Were these signatures part of the 2800 eligible voters? No one knows, because the city is claiming that it is not obligated to check the eligibility of the signatories. This makes the who process illigitmate.

    The demographic of the area is mostly students and non Canadian Citizens.
    Are these people part of the 2800 eligible voters? No! Is it possible that a large portion of Sergakis’ signatures were from people who aren’t even eligible to sign? Definately.

    That is the main flaw with this whole process that is over looked.

    On top of this, many residents signed under false pretenses. I know this cause I was solicited on a couple of different occasions.

    Basically, the petitioners can tell all sorts of fairy tales in order to get signatures and they can get signatures of people who aren’t even eligible to sign or vote.
    But none of that matters because the city doesn’t have to check any of that.

    Reply
  9. Heather H

    I agree with Sergakis. Why should the right to decide on the fate of a private developement on a private property on a COMMERCIAL strip be decided by a few neighbours without, any possibility for him to fight back?

    My husband and I live downtown. There are bars, restaurants, and students left and right. Who are we to say, “hey, I want peace and quiet, I’m gonna run petitions to shut you all down?” This isn’t a quiet residential street in Brossard.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Who are we to say, “hey, I want peace and quiet, I’m gonna run petitions to shut you all down?”

      You can’t just circulate a petition to force a referendum to shut down a business. Sergakis needed a bylaw change in order to expand his business beyond the limits imposed by the city. The petition and referendum could have forced a denial of that bylaw change, enforcing the status quo.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>