Mayor Gérald Tremblay got yet more bad news when he found out that the president of his party, Brenda Paris, has defected to rival Vision Montreal to run as a borough mayor.
In addition to her various roles with government and non-profit organizations in the city, Paris is a member of the Société de Transport de Montréal’s board of directors. There, she serves as the “transit users’ representative”, which means she represents regular people like us who take the bus and metro to work every day.
It’s one of two seats on the board set aside for this purpose. The other is for a paratransit users’ representative, and is currently held by Marie Turcotte. Both Paris and Turcotte have served since 2001, making for quite a long tenure.
All the other seats on the STM’s board are held by municipal politicians. Borough mayors, city councillors, or representatives of on-island suburbs. Now, having declared herself as a candidate, Paris has become one of them. (One might argue she was already one of them being president of a political party.)
I’m pretty sure that when the “transit users’ representative” was added to the STM’s board, this wasn’t what they had in mind for it. There are already far too many politicians on the board, and far too few people from the community.
I don’t know Brenda Paris, and I have no reason to believe that she’s anything other than an outstanding person. But after eight years on the STM’s board, I think it’s clear that she has more connections to municipal politicians and civil servants than she does regular transit users. It’s not a personal fault, it’s just the natural progression after eight years and being so involved in politics.
The STM has done a lot for transparency, and is continuing to improve (putting documentation online, for example, and releasing annual reports with useful statistics), but there are serious deficiencies, starting with the board of directors itself. While the agendas for meetings are published in advance, the items are vaguely described, and there is no supporting documentation available. Reference could be made to a new bus route in the agenda, but a description, map or schedule of that route isn’t available before or at the meeting to interested users.
At the meetings themselves, time is set aside for questions from the public (which usually comes in the form of complaints about individual cases of inconvenience from people who clearly have nothing better to do with their time), but when it gets down to business, there is never any discussion of the millions of dollars of projects approved unanimously. The actual meeting, with a dozen items on the agenda, lasts for less than 10 minutes, with the secretary noting only who was present and who moved and seconded various motions.
It’s time for a new transit users’ representative on the STM’s board. Perhaps even one selected by the transit users themselves instead of by political appointment. (I focus on Paris and not Turcotte here, though if a paratransit user was willing to serve on the STM’s board I would suggest change there as well.) And I think some consideration should be given to term limits for these positions.
I don’t know if Mayor Tremblay has the power to remove Paris from the STM’s board because she defected from his party (or whether he’d be so petty as to remove her strictly for that reason), but even if that doesn’t happen, I think she should recognize it’s inappropriate for her to continue serving on this board in this capacity.
I’m sure Brenda Paris is an asset to the STM, and would even suggest that she be appointed to one of the political seats on the board in the event she wins in November’s election. But she’s taking up a seat that needs to be filled by someone with new ideas and a better perspective on the issues that transit users face every day, someone whose votes won’t be clouded by the worry of how they might be seen on the campaign trail.
For that reason, I respectfully suggest that she resign.