Louise Harel and the art of newspeak

Par Alan Hustak le 6 août 2009

When Louise Harel was still Quebec’s minister of municipal affairs, and promoting the borough system for Montreal, she envisioned the boroughs as  “little homelands.…What is important to understand,” she said back then, “ is that there are little bits of patrie throughout  Montreal, and the people are proud of it. That has helped me understand the feeling of identity in the suburbs. ''    

Harel also promised the boroughs would be good for the economy, because “the system, at the same time as increasing the value of independent neighbourhoods, has at its base, mutual co-operation. I am totally in favour of the adoption (of a borough system) in Montreal.”’ 

Harel was confident that the 19 arrondissments – she originally proposed 27 -, each with three to six councilors, would be cost effective. She produced a study that she said was ordered by the Montreal transition committee to indicate the borough system would save taxpayers $342-million. It would be more efficient, she argued, because local authorities would  concentrate on day to day things that really matter - garbage collection, road maintenance, sports and recreation plus building permits - while City Hall would look after the big picture. As it turned out, her arithmetic was wrong and the study she quoted from didn’t exist. Many didn’t believe her big lie then and today her plan has been exposed for what it is – an enormous waste of taxpayer’s dollars. 

Now Harel is running for Mayor, and the tables have turned,  Early in June, she told  Radio Canada’s Simon Durivage that if she’s elected, she will cut the number of boroughs, because all that patrie has turned the city into ethnic ghettos.. “We’ll have an Italian city, a Haitian city, an Anglophone city, we will no longer have the sense of one big city with boroughs that speak with one voice,” she said.

 In a June 29 interview with LaPresse she complained the arrondissements that she herself created, have now  turned into “quasi-cities,” with too much power. 

Harel is not the first politician to make a U-turn on policy but what is disturbing is the direction she now wants to take us.  Getting rid of the boroughs is a necessity. But just which boroughs would she cut if she does not cut all at once? And just how would she  carve the new municipal map of Montreal? Would she have Lachine annex Cote St. Luc to dilute the Jewish influence, or meld St. Leonard into Anjou to eliminate the Italian identity? It would be fair to ask if the only “Homelands”  that seem to be acceptable to Harel are those pure laine, French-speaking majority east-end neighbourhoods,  

She is making stabs at reform, which is politically smart,  but until voters know where and how she’s going to wield her knives to divide the municipal map, they should be wary.

Harel has discovered the benefits of newspeak. Taking a page from George Orwell’’s 1984, she would have us believe that while she said what she said, what she said isn’t what she really meant to say.. They key word in newspeak, Orwell tells us “is blackwhite.”  Like so many newspeak words, the word has two mutually contradictory meanings. .It means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, but it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget one has every believed the contrary.”

Harel is beginning to reveal her strategy, but isn’t explicit about her priorities.. Her pitch is to voters in Anjou, Mercier-Hochelaga, Riviere des Prairies-Pointe aux Trembles, Rosemont-Petitit Patrie and Montreal North, five east-side boroughs that could be her springboard into the mayor’s chair.  While she has acknowledged Quebec’s  “plural identity,” and has paid lip service to the right of Montrealers to be different, “regardless of their origins, religion, political views or sexual orientation,”  Harel’s record of frictionwith minorities  is  there for anyone who bothers to check the record.. 

She has been disaffected by immigration, has ridiculed Westmount for its “anglo-British character that reeks of colonialism,’‘ and in spite of a court ruling that said otherwise, insisted that the Quebec government had  “a right and an obligation to declare Montreal a French City. 

The fact that she is a separatist doesn’t disqualify here as a mayoralty candidate. Federalists do not have a license on competence. The city has been well served in the past by nationalist politicians, and as a Parti Quebecois cabinet minister, Harel proved to be an astute politician with a social conscience.  But anyone thinking of voting for her as mayor should be aware that when it comes to understanding Montreal and the nuances of its cosmopolitan make-up, she is a separatist  out of joint with the times.


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