The North Star


Garbage piles up in eastern Montreal

Borough mayor blames residents for consequences of service cuts

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At a July 2 council meeting of the Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough of eastern Montreal, a community organization delivered a petition protesting cuts to garbage pickup services. In response to complaints of overflowing public trash cans and unsanitary conditions in their neighbourhood, the mayor blamed residents for throwing away items that he said should have been composted. 

The community organization Ligue 33 made their intervention during the opening question period of the borough meeting, held outdoors in Saint-Aloysius Park in Hochelaga, one of the lowest-income neighbourhoods in the city. Members of the organization carried bags of garbage to the front of the audience to drive their point home. Their petition asks that the borough reverse its decision to cut garbage pickup from weekly to once every two weeks. An online version of the petition has been signed by over 320 people in the past 24 hours at the time of writing.

"Vermin in the streets, the strong stench of garbage heating up in the sun, overflowing public garbage cans, etc. We're asking municipal authorities, especially borough councils, to negotiate with citizens for an alternative that will reduce garbage production, but without causing public health issues," activist Renaud Dumouchel told the council, provoking applause from the audience. 

In his response, Borough Mayor Pierre Lessard-Blais attempted to shift the blame away from the borough council by suggesting that the overflow of garbage in the neighbourhood was the fault of residents who do not compost enough of their waste. He said that the service cuts were a strategy to force residents to compost more: "Just handing out the bins isn't enough to change people's habits. We understand that it's shocking."

Nav, another member of Ligue 33, found the council's response insulting and dishonest. "The council proposes things that are unrealistic. It blames the people, as usual. It blames the poor because they are poor. They don't understand the situation of the people," the young activist told North Star. "The goal of this measure is to save money. It's just a measure of austerity to put on the back of the people and to be able to accumulate taxes."

Indeed, outside the meeting, Mayor Lessard-Blais gave one resident an explanation for the accumulation of garbage that had little to do with compost. Alexandre Giasson happened to cross paths with the mayor and expressed his concerns about the unsanitary conditions in Hochelaga compared to other areas of the city. He described the mayor's response: 

"He says, 'Where have you been walking?' I answered which neighbourhoods. Then he says, 'Ah, but this is different. These neighbourhoods are gentrified, much more gentrified than Hochelaga.' Finally, the moral of the story, according to Pierre Lessard-Blais, is that gentrified neighbourhoods are cleaner. The poor are dirty."

After reading and delivering the petition, Renaud Dumouchel invited residents to join Ligue 33 for a neighbourhood assembly at 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 7, at Parc Bellerive in the east end of the borough. "We're calling on all citizens who want to mobilize against an administration that doesn't listen to us to join us. There's going to be food. It's going to be a big popular gathering." ​

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