Manifest – For a socialist councillor in Verdun!

Being a socialist for me is a act of love. I am a socialist because I believe it is the best way to help the people around me. Because that’s the only way to get changes that are worthwhile and that will last. Homeless encampments are destroyed, while luxury condos are built, which remain empty. More and more is being asked of employees in the health and education systems, but less and less of large companies. The poor get poorer, the rich get richer. Every social or environmental justice victory, like abortion or racial equality, must be hard earned and protected at all times from the onslaught of the right and the profiteers of the system. Join me in fighting for a socialist world, a world without oppression, a democratic world where our needs are met, not those of the millionaires!

Rosalie Bélanger-Rioux

Our neighborhoods, our city, our country, and our planet are facing record levels of social inequality. While the web giants are making more profits than ever, there is still no economic recovery for the population. Environmental destruction is accelerating causing extreme climatic conditions. These mostly affect women and the elderly or vulnerable. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened social inequalities.

While everyone is suffering the consequences of the economic and health crises, the world’s largest companies continue to make profits. But the super rich don’t reinvest their profits in the economy. Instead, they are hidden in tax havens or placed beyond the reach of governments.

The governments in Ottawa, Quebec City and Montreal were quick to rain down millions of dollars on companies whose profits declined due to the health measures. There’s money in the world when you are willing to take it! Direct financial assistance was also provided to those who experienced income loss. However, this assistance was temporary in addition to being re-appropriated by landlords as rent. Above all, it has served to avoid even greater social instability. Now that aid is coming to an end for ordinary people, the economic, sanitary and environmental situation continues to worsen.

The organization of movements bringing together those who want to fundamentally change society is more necessary than ever. It is essential to avoid an even greater degradation of our living conditions and, more broadly, of our planet.

A crisis that benefits real estate players

One of the best ways for a real estate developer to make a profit is to buy up parking lots, vacant lots, or crumbling buildings for a mere pittance. They then are demolished to rebuild expensive high-rise accommodations. This scheme increases the property value of the land. As a result, the taxes collected by the city on this land are increasing. It doesn’t take long to figure out why the elected representatives of the world, including in Montreal have allowed their city to be sold off and developed in this way.

All their talk of « fighting homelessness », developing social housing or a « green economic recovery » rings hollow in the face of their real plan: to let the private sector gentrify our neighborhoods with their luxurious concrete towers. Or blithely subsidize SMEs in the hopes of getting the vote of this fringe of small property owners.

The luxury condo frenzy has led Montreal down the same path as Vancouver and Toronto: its worst housing affordability crisis in 20 years. If the spokespersons of the municipal parties agree to ask for more « affordable housing » from the real estate giants, the giants are laughing their heads off because the regulation is so weak and works in their favor.

In fact, there has never been as much private rental housing built in 30 years in Quebec. However, in spite of this, it has never been so difficult to find a place to live! The increase in rental costs is strongest in Montreal in the Southwest. Letting the private sector build luxury condo towers for the benefit of real estate speculators will not solve the housing crisis. Just as leaving the initiative to the big energy companies will not slow down the ongoing climate catastrophe.

Strong support for progressive measures

According to a recent poll, 92% of Quebecers believe that the Quebec government « is the actor that should assume the greatest leadership in the housing crisis. » The people of Quebec also support a tax on the wealthiest to pay for the costs of the pandemic (78%). It also supports increasing the minimum wage to $15/hr (55%) to address inequality. Consensus is now emerging among worker advocacy organizations for an $18/hr minimum wage.

Despite the widespread support for these demands, employers are speculating about their « terrible repercussions ». Let’s not forget that inequality is more pronounced than ever and that the richest have become richer during the pandemic. Few people have the courage to stand up to the big economic players in order to improve wages or finance housing construction. If some elected officials dare to do so, these people must be able to count on massive movements of struggle to strengthen the balance of power and overturn the status quo.

An independent and socialist candidacy

Rosalie Bélanger-Rioux’s arrival on the municipal scene stands in stark contrast to this « revolving door » policy where real estate players and landlords were elected – and are still trying to get elected – to accelerate the gentrification of neighborhoods.

Rosalie has lived in Verdun since her return from the United States two years ago. A professor of mathematics at McGill University, she also serves as coordinator for Socialist Alternative’s Our Neighborhoods Are Not for Sale campaign. She is fighting against gentrification projects in Verdun and is working to set up a tenants’ movement composed of workers and young people from the neighbourhood.

She is running for borough councillor in the Desmarchais-Crawford district with the goal of helping to build broad and combative social movements, particularly on the issue of housing rights. Building these movements is critical, because in the event of an election victory, Rosalie will face all sorts of attacks from landlords and other elected officials. To avoid marginalization of our candidate in the media or in government, it will be necessary to show that the causes she champions are supported by a community that is mobilized and ready to fight for the changes it needs.

For example,the massive construction of affordable public housing for everyone. It provides a safe option for women who want to leave an abusive relationship. It also helps fight for the climate by using energy-efficient construction and renovation processes. And above all, it is by integrating essential services into urban design (e.g., public transit, green spaces, daycare, clinics, etc.) that we can improve our health and that of the planet.

Free and universal access to public transit can also be provided quickly to fight pollution and improve our life quality. Rather than spending huge sums of money on police, health and public safety starts with access to decent jobs, housing, and free quality essential services.

If elected, Rosalie pledges to keep only the equivalent of an average salary and to donate the remainder of her elected compensation to social justice causes, organizations, and movements. The reason is simple: making the same salary as the people we represent leads us to improve their living conditions!

How can we change society?

The purpose of a candidacy like Rosalie’s is not to stick to the parliamentary game. Rather, her candidacy is part of an effort to drastically change things by nurturing activist actions outside of city hall. To fight against the power of money, our best weapon is our numbers.

History proves that the most determined social movements are those that achieve real change. The great trade union victories were possible thanks to strike actions, occupations and protests that attacked the interests of the employers. Recognition of women’s rights, including abortion and pay equity, required massive demonstrations, civil disobedience, and powerful solidarity. The achievement of rights for people in the LGBT+ community has also been built on the foundation of broad protests, awareness campaigns, and direct action.

In recent years, people have organized massive protests against racism, violence against women and climate change to raise awareness of the injustices of capitalist society. Despite the magnitude of these actions, the powers that be have reacted in a superficial manner (symbolic actions and little funding). This distracts attention from deep systemic injustices and discourages the activist organizing of ordinary people. To make real gains, we must build a democratic movement with clear and combative demands. The lifeblood of the 2012 student strike relied on regular local general assemblies whose action was coordinated by a militant national organization. To win the massive construction of public housing in Quebec, we will have to create this type of movement.

Socialist ideas are increasingly popular among the youth and the working class. A 2019 poll already estimated that the majority of Canadians have a positive view of socialism. In the United States, elected socialists such as Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez enjoy overwhelming support. Tens of thousands of people have already joined socialist organizations. Now we must link these socialist ideas to concrete demands that will be carried by combative field campaigns.

Rosalie’s approach was inspired by that of Seattle’s socialist city councillor, Kshama Sawant. Elected in 2013, her socialist team has spearheaded landmark struggles such as $15/hr minimum wage, legislation for tenants’ rights, a police ban on the use of chemical weapons, a defunding of police, as well as an Amazon tax to fund affordable housing.

Resist the interests of private companies

With a grassroots approach, our demands can go far beyond those that companies find acceptable and profitable. The municipal elections in Montreal, particularly in Verdun, expose the willingness of all parties to run candidates from the real estate, business, chamber of commerce, or neoliberal management world. These people will fight tooth and nail to avoid any progressive reforms that could harm the profits of private companies. We need-leaders who will oppose their capitalist policies.

Our opponents will continue to promise social housing, improved public transit, an end to racial profiling, etc. But after four years of the Plante administration, homelessness has doubled and barely a thousand social housing units have been delivered. This contrasts with the tens of thousands of luxury condo units built in record time. Public transport services will be cut, but fares have increased. The new Pink Metro Line project is a distant dream whose costs continue to swell. Residential taxes also went up, but commercial taxes went down.

Denis Coderre’s team is proposing to go even further to favour large, medium, and small companies, whether in housing, culture or the supply of services downtown. His previous administration did much worse than Projet Montréal in terms of social housing. There is nothing to be expected from all those people who are selling our city to big companies and want small businesses to save us from the global economic crisis.

As for Mouvement Montréal, this new party is simply asking for more money from Quebec to fill the city’s coffers. Until then, it promises to fund SMEs while waiting for the wealth to trickle down into people’s pockets.

The pursuit of profit prevents us from rationally managing our public transportation, health sector resources, education, housing, or energy sources. It wastes and destroys for the benefit of a very small elite. For this reason, the largest companies operating in Canada – including the large construction companies – will have to come under public control. Their management must be democratically entrusted to workers to ensure that their activities meet their human and environmental needs. This could lay the foundations for a new type of society based on solidarity, democracy, and cooperation.

However, public administration of key industrial sectors remains a dead end if it remains dictated by a capitalist economy. Mass mobilization is necessary in order to wrest democratic control, by the base, of enterprises and industrial sectors in order to show the working class its power and its potential for political and economic management of society. Victories of this magnitude can give it a free hand in its fight for control of the whole society, for a socialist society.

Victories go beyond borders

Socialism cannot be achieved in one city, one province or even one country. The municipal arena, however, allows us to build movements capable of winning strategic victories here and now. We’re talking about movements strong enough to get companies taxed, implement tough environmental regulations, or strengthen labor rights. Such battles can inspire others elsewhere, as has been the case across North America with the $15/hour minimum wage.

It is possible that here, too, a socialist will win elections in Verdun and use her position to organize the fight at a higher level against speculators and large property owners.

To ensure even deeper change, we must organize the power of numbers into a new political party dedicated solely to the interests of working people. It will be able to build itself from movements in struggle, in particular trade unions, and will have democratic structures in which its leaders will be accountable.

Rosalie is proud to be a socialist candidate independent of the parties of the Montreal elites. She will be indebted to the ordinary people of Verdun, not to the real estate vultures. We need more representatives like Rosalie to bring municipal politics closer to the people in a transparent way. We need Rosalie at the Verdun City Hall to give a platform to all workers, young people and oppressed people who organize to improve their living conditions.

This election campaign is in solidarity with people struggling against capitalist injustice around the world. Global actions for climate or against violence against women show that we have a common struggle at the global level. We can participate in building an international movement for fundamental change in society. From Montreal to Barcelona to Hong Kong to Seattle, working people can organize and lead the way.

Rosalie Bélanger-Rioux’s election team,
independent socialist candidate in Desmarchais-Crawford in Verdun

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