Sud-Ouest is one of city’s most diverse districts
Constituents include long-time residents and newly arrived, affluent condo dwellers
Craig Sauvé had never contemplated a career in the circus arts. But one might say that his job as city councillor in the Sud-Ouest borough constitutes as much a balancing act on a high-wire — without a net — as the most seasoned of tightrope walkers.
Sauvé is up for re-election in the borough’s Saint-Henri-Est—Petite-Bourgogne—Pointe-Saint-Charles—Griffintown district. And as the histories of the aforementioned communities well indicate, this is one of the most diverse districts in the city. Residents come from all over the cultural, linguistic, economic and age map living in distinct communities.
Sauvé’s constituents include residents who have lived in their areas all their lives, many of whom have to rely on government assistance to get by; and they also include newly arrived affluent residents who have moved from other parts of the city to luxury condos on the Lachine Canal and environs and who have helped to drive up housing and other costs — much to the chagrin of the former group.
As a result of this confluence, anti-gentrification forces have vandalized restaurants, boutiques and homes in Saint-Henri. And on the other end of the socio-cultural-political spectrum, there have been incidents of murals being de-faced, such as Colombian-American artist Jessica Sabogal’s depiction of an Indigenous woman with the words: “White supremacy is killing me.” Earlier this week, the mural was vandalized for the third time.
Those acts notwithstanding, Sauvé’s district is considered, without doubt, one of the city’s most vibrant, rich in restos, clubs, arts and festivals and yet also rich in traditional values which embrace the roots of, among others, the city’s black and Irish communities.
No more proof of the above need be provided than last month’s well-deserved borough tribute to piano legend Oliver Jones close to where he grew up in Little Burgundy. In addition to a massive outdoor concert, featuring a who’s who of the jazz scene and Jones himself tickling the ivories, the homage also entailed the renaming of the Dominion St.’s Sainte-Cunégonde Social Centre to the Oliver Jones Centre.
Sauvé, 36, who had actually contemplated a full-time career in music himself, doesn’t shirk from his duties. He is there for the celebrations. He is also there at any sign of discord in the community. Ever sensitive to the plight of seniors and those on welfare, the Projet Montréal candidate is also quick to point out that “we are a small business party.”
“We’ve got some big files to work on, for sure,” Sauvé understates. “We really try to find those points which are central to people’s lives here and which unite people.”
Sauvé is chatting with constituents in the Maison Saint-Charles community centre in the Pointe with Sud-Ouest borough mayor of eight years, Benoît Dorais, also up for reelection but this time under the Projet Montréal banner. The issue of gentrification is particularly sensitive here.
“There is real economic transition going on here and there are a lot of people being left behind,” Sauvé says. “Our job is to recognize that and to find ways to make sure that everyone is included and has a home. And I think everyone agrees on that.
“I think it’s a minute minority of people engaged in such (vandalizing) actions . ... But that’s not the way most people here want to go about it. They want peaceful neighbourhoods and don’t believe in aggressive attacks. Vandalism scares the people, like senior citizens, who feel most vulnerable, and it really hurts social inclusion.”
Although he grew up in the West Island, Sauvé has lived in this district since he was 17 and
a student at Concordia, while Dorais’s family goes back five generations in St-Henri.
“It’s an amazing thing to represent all these neighbourhoods at once, but it is also such a huge weight on my shoulders to be the representative of such historical communities.” Sauvé says. “It’s certainly challenging to deal with the complexity of the communities, but it’s so satisfying to bring together the richness of all sides.”
Though not oblivious to the benefits of taxes they bring to the area, Sauvé and Dorais championed a bylaw limiting the number of upscale restaurants to be built on Notre-Dame St., in order that residents have a wider access to all types of businesses.
“I think everybody agrees that we have enough restaurants here now,” Sauvé says. “That was driving up the prices of commercial storefronts. So we felt we had to do something to keep the rents from not skyrocketing any further. While the taxes go up, that doesn’t mean residents’ pensions and revenues are going up. People are getting squeezed.”
“The idea is not to penalize, but we have to attract other kinds of businesses as well,” says Dorais, 42, who was elected borough mayor in 2013 as a member and then the leader of Coalition Montréal, but who joined Projet Montréal last summer. “Along with demands to invest in parks, traffic-calming measures and housing, that is, without question, also a big issue, but we have to balance the benefits of gentrification with the needs of the less fortunate. It really requires thinking outside the box.”
Adds Sauvé: “Ultimately our role is to fight poverty — to getting people homes that are affordable and to making communities that are sustainable — and yet also to make everyone feel at home.” Pause. “That’s definitely a balancing act.”
We’ve got some big files to work on, for sure. We really try to find those points which are central to people’s lives here and which unite people.
Sud-Ouest borough mayoral incumbent Benoît Dorais, right, and councillor Craig Sauve speak with people as they arrive at Maison Saint-Charles community centre.