Tag Archives: Montreal politics

The real problem with Philippe Schnobb and the STM board

STM board of directors: politicians and failed politicians

STM board of directors: politicians and failed politicians

When news came out that Denis Coderre planned to appoint Philippe Schnobb as chair of the STM, there was some controversy. Projet Montréal councillors objected to the fact that Schnobb, a former Radio-Canada journalist, has no experience in public transit and no experience managing a large corporation. The fact that this was a patronage appointment — Schnobb ran for Coderre, losing to Richard Bergeron — just made it worse.

But one thing that hasn’t gotten as much attention (though it was mentioned at the city council meeting) is the nature of Schnobb’s appointment as the transit users’ representative on the STM board.

The STM board has 10 members, of whom six are Montreal city councillors, one represents a demerged municipality within the STM’s territory, and three represent transit users (of them, one represents paratransit users and another, recently added, represents users under age 35).

But these three positions are not elected by the transit users. Instead, they’re appointed by the agglomeration council, with no requirement to consult transit users first. And that opens the door to political patronage.

In 2005, Brenda Paris ran for a city council seat for Gérald Tremblay’s Montreal Island Citizens’ Union party. She lost to Line Hamel of Vision Montreal. She had already been on the STM’s board as the transit users’ representative. She was kept in that position even though she was effectively a politician, eventually becoming the president of the party. In 2009, I said this was an inappropriate use of this post.

In 2009, Michel Labrecque ran for the Plateau borough mayor’s job for Tremblay’s Union Montreal with the understanding that he would continue to head the STM, a job he had for less than a year while a city councillor. He lost to Luc Ferrandez of Projet Montréal. But Tremblay kept him on anyway, making him the transit users’ representative in addition to chair of the STM board. (Paris also lost in this election, but by then she had switched parties.) Again, I wrote that this was inappropriate. I like Labrecque, and believe he actually did a good job as STM chair, but that doesn’t make it less wrong that he was taking a seat meant for someone else.

In 2013, Philippe Schnobb ran for a city council seat for Denis Coderre’s team. He lost to Richard Bergeron. But Coderre did what had been done for Brenda Paris and Michel Labrecque, using the transit users’ representative post as a loophole to get Schnobb on the STM board.

Schnobb’s appointment raises a lot of questions. Was he promised this job as a failsafe if he didn’t get elected? (Returning to journalism is hard after running in a political campaign.) What, other than loyalty to a party, convinced Coderre that Schnobb was a good choice? Is this yet another indication that Coderre has no interest in changing the way politics are run at Montreal city hall?

I don’t object to Schnobb sitting on the STM board. That board has had plenty of people with questionable qualifications and lacklustre interest in public transit. He might even do a great job. But if this position on the board is going to be filled only with failed politicians as patronage appointments, then let’s cut the bullshit and just call it the failed politicians’ representative.

The issue isn’t just a semantic one. As great as Labrecque was as a chairperson, and as patient and inviting as he was during question period at STM board meetings, or with individual users he ran into on the bus or metro, Labrecque never really comported himself as a spokesperson for transit users, or a link between them and the STM. He was the STM. He never made any formal effort to consult with the people he was supposed to be representing, outside of the same internal methods that all STM board members use. If that system was broken, there’s no way he’d ever know. His contact information was never published on the STM’s website — not even an email address. Actual transit users had no way to get in touch with him directly unless they went to a meeting or ran into him on the street.

I also believe that the nature of Labrecque’s appointment, and Paris’s before him, resulted in a lack of transparency on the STM board. In all the meetings I’ve attended, never once has anyone cast a vote opposing a motion. Never once as anyone debated a motion. Never once has a vote even been called. Everything is approved unanimously, without discussion. Everything, without exception, is rubber-stamped.

Take the last STM board meeting. After some announcements and a question period, the formal meeting begins. It lasts exactly five minutes and 45 seconds, the time it takes to read, occasionally explain, and approve 20 motions. That works out to about 17 seconds each.

This is typical of the STM board. And is a symptom of the groupthink that pervades the organization’s administration.

Another symptom is the STM’s formal transparency issues. The complete lack of discussion about motions proposed at board meetings is reflected in the list of motions that’s published sometimes only hours before a meeting, and which provide very little information. After a meeting once, I approached the secretary to ask for a document that was passed at the meeting, a change to a bus route. I was told that I had to file a formal access-to-information request. (At the time, those requests could only be filed by written letter or by fax.)

Let me repeat that: In order to find out what the STM board had just approved before me minutes before, I had to formally file an access to information request. Just to find out what the nature was of a bus route change, I had to write a letter and perhaps wait weeks for a response.

As far as I’m aware, this policy remains. None of the documents approved at the latest meeting are available on the STM website, nor are they available for reading if you go to the meetings in person.

And I can’t ask my transit users’ representative what he just voted to approve, because he’s also the chair of the STM, and politically tied to the government in power.

I honestly believe that if there was someone sitting on the STM’s board that was there to seriously represent transit users, these issues would have been resolved long ago.

Again, I think Labrecque did a good job as the STM’s chair, except on the issue of transparency. (And maybe their awful media relations, but that’s a bit of inside baseball.) And if the agglomeration of Montreal wants to replace one of those city councillor seats with an open seat they can fill with political losers, be my guest.

But giving the title “transit users’ representative” to someone who citizens didn’t even want sitting on city council, and then on top of that making that person the chair of the board despite a glaring lack of qualifications… It’s just wrong.

When Labrecque was appointed, I referred to it as a “giant ‘fuck you’ to users.” I was really tempted to use the same vulgar language here. Philippe Schnobb does not represent me any more than Marvin Rotrand or Richard Bergeron (either of whom by the way would have made much better choices for STM chair). And experience with Schnobb’s predecessors has shown me that he’s unlikely to make an effort to try to care about my interests.

It’s unfortunate that one of Coderre’s first acts as mayor has been to repeat a political manoeuvre of his predecessor, and to put the needs of his political team first, at the expense of the people he’s supposed to be serving.

UPDATE: The STM’s executive puts out a statement praising Labrecque and the accomplishments the corporation has made over his tenure.

Meanwhile, La Presse has an interview with Labrecque, and Radio-Canada talks to Schnobb, who says he’s willing to publish his personal email address to increase communication with transit users.

CTV holding Montreal mayor debate on Sunday; CBC to follow

Updated with post-debate comments.

It’s not often that CTV Montreal has special programming anymore, a fact that has left many people who remember the good ol days of CFCF-12 less than impressed.

But Sunday, Oct. 6, saw one of those special programs: A debate between the three leading candidates for mayor of Montreal: Denis Coderre, Marcel Côté and Richard Bergeron.

The debate was one hour, commercial-free from 6pm to 7pm on Sunday, Oct. 6. It will be moderated by anchor Mutsumi Takahashi. It was also livestreamed on its website and simulcast on CJAD, which is now also owned by Bell Media.

The debate did not take the place of the regular CTV Montreal newscast, which instead was moved up by an hour so it ran from 5pm to 6pm.

Where’s Joly?

You might notice that the name of Mélanie Joly is not listed above. She wasn’t invited.

“We made the call, essentially using a similar logic that the consortium applied to Elizabeth May in the last federal debate: The threshold is having elected members,” CTV Montreal news director Jed Kahane explained to me. “She would surely be a dynamic and interesting participant;  but that was not the criteria we used.”

Choosing who will participate in a televised debate is always a controversial issue. Limiting to those parties with elected members is a good way of filtering out the no-chance candidates. But it also rewards incumbency, and this is an election where Montrealers are really looking for change. Only one of the three leaders invited to the debate (Bergeron) currently sits on Montreal city council.

Montreal currently has 12 official candidates for mayor, seven of whom are listed as independents. (Michel Brûlé is the only other one with a party.)

Though the first televised debate included Joly, it looks like the broadcasters are moving toward three-way debates for the rest of the campaign.

Or they did until a poll came out on the morning after the debate showing Joly with 16% support, only one point behind Côté. That prompted Radio-Canada to change its mind and invite Joly to its debate despite previously excluding her.

Even Kahane admits that had this poll come out before the debate, CTV might have acted differently.

“We had decided that if she made a very strong showing in the polls we’d have to reconsider our decision,” he said. “This first major poll came too late for our debate, but I see it’s caused others to take another look, as we surely would have”.

The format

The debate took place at CTV Montreal, and included pre-recorded questions from the public. Beyond that, Kahane wouldn’t give details, such as where exactly the candidates would be. (In the “cozy corner” interview area? Behind the anchor desk? Somewhere else?)

“Tune in to see,” he said.

As it turned out, the candidates stood on the floor near the windows, each with a transparent podium (and a fourth for Takahashi).

CTV Montreal hasn’t hosted that many debates. Federal debates happen in Ottawa, and provincial debates are low-key affairs because the Parti Québécois doesn’t bother trying to appeal to anglophones. During the last provincial election there was a short sit-down debate with members of the three main parties that was done during a noon newscast.

The debate is posted online if you missed it, along with post-debate scrums.

Among those covering the CTV debate:

CBC coming too

CBC Montreal is also working on a debate, set for Oct. 22. McGill will be hosting it, two weeks after their French debate. Joly is being invited to that one.

The debate, which will air live from 5-6pm on television, radio and online, will be moderated by Andrew Chang.

Mayor Labonté

So Benoît Labonté is running for the Vision Montreal leadership. Try to contain your shock.

After leaving Gérald Tremblay’s Montreal Island Citizens’ Union party and being coy about whether he would join the opposition, then joining the opposition and being coy about whether he’d run for its leadership, he’s running for its leadership and I can only assume desperately searching for something else to be coy about.

Considering even well-informed Montrealers would be hard-pressed to name a single other member of the Vision Montreal party (Pierre Bourque? No, he retired, remember? Yeah), the chances of Labonté facing real opposition is about on par with the Quebec government announcing fast-track funding for a West Island metro extension. Nevertheless, he’s putting quite a bit of effort into his campaign, because he’s really starting his run for mayor.

He’s setup a website (look how visionary and leaderistic he looks, staring off to the side with a mild squint). It has some working links, including to his Facebook and MySpace profiles, and a blog at the easy-to-remember URL of http://www.benoitlabonte.org/content.aspx?ID=40d78367-3534-455c-9ed7-6641f3a220d1

I know I’ll be typing that one into my browser every morning.

He’s also on the YouTubes, his first video showcasing why he’s not just some other boring ex-businessman running for mayor:


  • He left the governing party over fundamental disagreements with its leader, though he couldn’t name any specifics other than “they’re not doing enough”
  • He introduced a plastic bag recycling system to replace the messy green boxes downtown. So now instead of a zero-waste system that was so successful it was overflowing, the borough has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying and distributing millions of special plastic bags to residents who will just turn around and dispose of them, which might happen cleanly assuming that they aren’t mistaken for garbage bags or ripped open by homeless people looking for returnable bottles and cans
  • He introduced the Parco-don, a voluntary parking meter that accepts all those pennies we have no other use for, and distributes the money raised to homeless people (assuming, of course, that the loose change brought in is higher in value than the cost of emptying the machines regularly).
  • He created places for kids to graffiti legally, thereby solving Montreal’s graffiti problem forever.
  • He wants to make downtown streets, like Ste. Catherine Street in the Gay Village, pedestrian-only in the summer, an idea he and Tremblay are fighting over credit for.

Audace, indeed.

(via Lagacé)

UPDATE: See Labonté’s way-too-long and way-too-political-cliché-filled manifesto.