Vera 1944-2010

Par Alan Hustak le 4 novembre 2010

 

Vera Danyluk’s anger over the attempted rape of a young teenager in Montreal’s quiet, upscale Town of Mount Royal neighbourhood 40 years ago led her into a life of public service when she co-founded a Women’s Committee on Public Safety. The committee began demanding better police protection, and it helped launch her distinguished career in public service. She went on to win a seat on council, four elections as mayor of Town of Mount Royal, today a municipality in Montreal’s recently re-constituted system of municipal government, and served for eight years as Chairman of the Montreal Urban Community’s now defunct regional authority.

She often described herself as “a street fighter with a soft exterior.” A leader who endorsed “traditional values,” she displayed considerable diplomatic skill to broker consensus and navigate her way successfully through Montreal’s treacherous system of municipal politics. A steely but always gracious politician, Danyluk championed fiscal responsibility, crime prevention and safety issues that concerned women, especially spousal and child abuse.

She was 66 when she died of a progressive neurological disorder four months after resigning as mayor because of ill health. 

“She was there to serve. She had empathy, compassion, experience and competence,” said Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay, “It’s a great loss not just for the Town of Mount Royal but for the entire island. She strongly believed in the future of Montreal. She did her homework, was always on top of her files, and always laid her cards on the table. As head of the MUC she was always caught between what was best for the urban community as a whole, and what was best for the suburbs within it. It must have been very difficult for her, but you could see that everyone, even the suburban mayors who disagreed with her, respected her.”

Vera Mystic was born in her grandmother’s house on Hogan St., in east-end Montreal on March 16, 1944 and grew up in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, one of the city’s poorest districts. It was there, that she said she became “fluently bilingual, secure, savvy, ambitious and street smart.” Her father owned a garage and a small fleet of taxis. He died when Vera  was 16, and after finishing high school she went to work in Drummondville as a waitress to help her mother and two older brothers pay off his debts. It was then, she said, that she learned the value of a dollar. 

24.jpgShe then put herself through St. Joseph’s Normal School, became a teacher, and taught in Granby and in Montreal, then was elected a commissioner on the St. Croix school board. In 1963 she married greenhouse operator  Victor Danyluk and moved to the Town of Mount Royal where she continued her studies in philosophy, theology and psychology at McGill University where she obtained her B.Ed.  First elected as a town councillor in 1983, she won the mayoralty election four years later. As chief executive, she quickly earned a reputation for fair play. In 1994 she was elected chief executive of the Montreal Urban Community, the 79-member umbrella organization that co-ordinated the interests of 28, independent Island municipalities, often with rival interests. In that capacity she was responsible for a $1.2 billion budget and 15,000 public security and transit employees. She immediately irritated members by making them pay for their coffee, which she pointed out was costing taxpayers $10,000 a year. She was instrumental in the re-organization of the Montreal Police Department, and in the introduction of neighbourhood police stations. Danyluk was also a founding member of the International Crime Prevention Centre.

Her position as head of the MUC was eliminated in 2001 when the provincial government attempted to merge the island’s municipalities into one single megacity. She dropped out of the political scene, saying she had worked to make the MUC a place of cohesion, of good governance, but instead of blending local and regional interests, the forced merger created tension. “I couldn’t see myself waiving my values and convictions to align myself with others out of expediency,” she said. Out of office, she was courted by several political parties but claimed she was too idealistic to tow any partisan party line. “I don’t believe in power, I believe in leadership,” she once told a reporter, “I don’t want to be seen as a witch, or anything, but I believe strongly in moral values. I am not a feminist. I love my husband too much to be a feminist. I believe in hard work. I believe you accomplish things through simple gestures. There is an old proverb about a bamboo tree. For the first four years after you plant a bamboo tree, nothing happens. Then in the fifth year it shoots up. It’s the small gestures that add up to big changes.”

Danyluk considered running for mayor of Montreal in 2001, but by the time she had weighed all her options, she discovered it was too late: Gérald Tremblay had an unbeatable head start. He invited her to join his team, but the one position she expected to fill in his administration, as head of the city’s powerful executive committee — had already been promised to another candidate. She declined Tremblay’s invitation, and returned to local politics in 2005 when she was elected to a third term as mayor of TMR.

 She served as president of the Canadian Club of Montreal in 2004, was an advisor to the board of the Canadian Police College for nine years, and for four years was vice chair of the National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention .
In 2001 she was one of five women honouored by the Governor-General with the Persons Case Commemorative Award for her work in promoting the cause of Canadian women.

 She leaves her husband and a son, Peter, who is with the Ottawa police force.

 

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