Friday, November 01, 2013

Coderre's "Hasidgate" points to a $5-billion problem 

In what should be one of the more telling scandals of this election campaign, Denis Coderre was secretly filmed by a member of Montreal's Hasidic Jewish community in a private meeting last week. Coderre tells the group that “if you want my friendship, if you want my support, don’t divide the vote.”

And what, pray tell, is that supposed to mean?! It sounds awfully insulting on the surface, but who knows what happened in that room after the videographer stopped recording when Coderre called this person out. Here's why it matters and speaks to much larger issues.

Hasidic community leaders commissioned a poll, according to TVA's Yves Poirier, to gauge the voting intentions of non-Jews in the borough of Outremont (incumbent Marie Cinq-Mars of Conservons Outremont leads as borough mayor, by the way). Sounds strange, right? Not really, considering the Hasidic community has had, at times, strained relations with local politicians and media. So, they presumably wanted to demonstrate that, as a voting block, they could make a difference in this election campaign and want their concerns heard (even though they're not really a voting block - people can think for themselves).

Faced with this information, Coderre seems to have adopted a more confrontational tone rather than trying his best to woo the group, which would have been the more rational option.

This matters because, as my friend Beryl Wajsman wrote recently in The Suburban, "the institutionalized budgetary envelope called 'Loisirs et culture,' now reaching one-quarter of our budget, has cost Montreal taxpayers over $5-billion" in the past decade. You read correctly. $5-billion.

Many of these funds are for essential operations, like community centres and swimming pools. But a good chunk is also devoted to handouts to various cultural organizations for various activities of varying importance. These subsidies are extremely costly to taxpayers and so commonplace that many cultural groups actually expect to receive help from the city every year, and scream bloody murder if they don't. I've been in borough council meetings - just borough, not the central city - where nearly $1-million was handed out to cultural groups in one sitting. It's appalling.

So, take this Hasidgate scenario and apply it to every other cultural community in the city (there are well over 100 of them), and what you have is a very, very expensive game of cat and mouse between politicians and cultural groups.

It's unpopular to pick on non-profit ethnic groups - many of whom do fantastic work in their communities - but someone has to! After corruption and cronyism, Montreal's institutionalized system of waving cash over the heads of minority groups in exchange for votes is the biggest concern of mine with regards to spending. It was a hallmark of Union Montreal's politics and it's an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.

Coderre may not have been trying to buy the votes of Hasidic Jews (I'll take his word for it for now), but the meeting highlights a parasitic relationship between the city and cultural groups which is costing us an obscene amount of money.


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