Understanding Municipal Politics

“For the longest time, I’ve lived in the same place for my whole life, born and raised in the same house. And a lot of the elected officials that represented me lived around me in my neighborhood. I only realized that after I got elected, that the former elected officials lived down the street or it so and so and I was like, I didn’t even know they were elected. I just thought it was Mister, Madame so and so. And I was like “Oh, you were a councilor?” I’m like, I would have never known.

But that’s also because they never necessarily came and engaged me or asked me. They didn’t ask me as a kid, like “How are things in the park?” “Can we improve the park somehow?” Or, “What do you need?” So there’s a lot of citizens who don’t think they understand municipal politics. And I think that’s really a shame because if I can do this job and I understand it and I didn’t think I understood it, every single person, every single citizen, every single resident actually understands more than they know about it.

I think once you overcome that fear of worrying that you might ask a stupid question or something like that, once you overcome that and you realize that you can have a conversation with an elected official, and the same as you, we’re all the same, there is no such thing as a stupid question, there is no such thing as an irrelevant issue. Once you realize that and you get engaged, then you become more and more engaged. So the citizens that I see that I’ve only dealt with once on a certain issue, they become super engaged after because I involved them. The same way somebody involved me in politics.”

Dealing With Criticism As A Public Figure

“When we talk about civic engagement or people being aware, citizens being aware of what’s going on in their city and challenging or criticizing government or elected officials, first of all, I’m okay with that because I was that person, I still am that person. I don’t believe because I’m elected I can’t criticize. I don’t believe because I’m with a certain group of people I can’t criticize that group of people. There’s constructive ways to criticize. There’s ways to contribute to the conversation and to make sure that change actually happens.

I treat all citizens equal and alike, and I realize that I work for those citizens. It’s okay to criticize us. I mean, if you go into politics and don’t expect to be attacked or don’t expect to be criticized or don’t expect to be called a name or something, then don’t go into it.”

Taking Everyone’s Perspective Into Account

“When I meet somebody or somebody recognizes me and comes up to talk to me about an issue that they’re having, I don’t treat them any differently and I don’t take less time, or I don’t take their issues with any less concern. I realize that this their reality, this is their life, this is what they’re preoccupied by, and it deserves the same attention and the same respect as any other resident or any other citizen.

There’s an aspect of, I guess being humble to a certain degree, but also respecting the people that you represent. Whether they voted or they didn’t vote, whether they elected you or they didn’t elect you. The minute you’re elected, you represent each and every one of them and all, and you represent them equally.”

Getting Engaged In Your Community

“People tend to not get very engaged. They tend to sometimes only get engaged when one subject directly affects them. Which is okay. I mean, if there’s an issue that you feel targets you in some way or affects your quality of life in some way, then that’s a great way to get engaged and to speak up and to get involved.

My responsibility, or our responsibility at that point, would be to take the time, now that there’s an interest, now that there’s a, the conversation has started, is to sit down with those people, take the time and explain these things to them, explain what we do, explain what we can or can’t do, or how we can or can’t affect change, or how even that citizen can bring change or affect change or solicit the right people to bring change.”

The Calèche Industry

“The calèche industry, that’s a big file that I was involved in and still am. And again, these horses are coming in from the country. So they’re coming into the country to work in the city. They’re not in the city on a regular basis, they stay in the city at the stables of a period of time. But the owners live in the country. So the animals, when they’re in the country roaming and doing things that’s one thing. More or less, they probably have a decent life.

When they’re in the city, they’re being exploited. They’re here to make money, they’re on the streets, in 28 degrees weather, whatever, it’s super humid, super hot. They’re out just so that a couple of people can take a carriage ride for $75 cash ’cause they thing it’s kind of romantic to get a tour of Old Montreal. There’s nothing romantic about exploiting an animal in conditions where you wouldn’t do that to a human being.

I think it’s important when you have industries like that that still exist in, we finally put an end to it. It’s gonna end at the end of this year, and I’m glad because hopefully, it’ll never come back. But things eventually arrive at an end. Horses where extremely important in our societies generations ago. There’s no argument that animals like that built the city. But they’re not building the city anymore. That’s not what they’re being used for. They’re sharing the roads now with cars and bikes and pedestrians and construction zones. Back in the day, it was just horses and horse carriages on the road. So horses had their place.”

Staying True To Yourself As A Politician

“When I was approached in 2012 to run in the elections, my first reaction was “You’re crazy. Screw off. Are you nuts? Do you know who I am? Do you know my background?” I had a high school education, a whole bunch of things. I was extremely insecure, regardless of all the stuff I had done throughout my life and community and professionally and everything. And I mean, I always undervalued the things that I did because I always really enjoyed and appreciated the things that I did. So I didn’t think I could do that job. I also had a very specific image of who a politician was or what a politician was. Seeing somebody in a suit and a tie all day long, well, that’s who they were. They were lawyers, they were business people, they were executives or whatever, accountants. There was a very specific look, there was a very specific language, there was a very specific culture around politics that I did not identify with at all and did not see myself in.

And when I got into it, it changed me a little bit for the first couple of months because I thought I had to become that image or that thing. And then I realized later, no, I’m elected, people elected me, they elected the kid with all that baggage, all that history that they knew, and that’s who they wanted to run things and that’s who they wanted to be involved.

Then I got settled into being more myself, the suit and tie came off from time to time, and it was that. So we forget that we are members of our community sometimes, first and foremost, we live in those communities that we represent, and we have to remain true to those communities and true to ourselves and true to where we come from because that’s what we’re representing.”

Exploiting Opportunities In A Responsible Manner

“Montreal’s like a big playground. It’s a big playground of opportunity. And I think that as long as we make sure that people are exploiting those opportunities in a responsible way, or that they’re making investments responsibly and for the right reasons, then I think Montreal has a lot to offer and we can do a lot, and I think a lot of businesses and people can benefit from the city.”

Animal Welfare

“The responsibility goes back to how we can make a change when it comes down to animal welfare, as citizens, as the more intelligent animal on the face of the earth. I think we have to get engaged and play an active role. There’s enough animals out there that need to be adopted, that are in shelters. And instead of going and wanting a purebred dog or going to a puppy mill or going to a breeder, rescue an animal that needs a home, rather than that animal being euthanized.

Stop thinking about the absolute, what you want, the perfect thing that you want or something because it fits with your image. Animals aren’t a part of fashion. It’s not like because you dress a certain way or you’re into a certain type of music or you want a certain thing, that all of a sudden you want a specific animal because your favorite musician or your favorite actor or actress has that animal. So those pressures lead to people making really bad decisions. We have to be more proactive, and when we make a decision we have to be more aware. It’s not a spontaneous thing. You’re not window shopping when you get an animal. That whole How Much Is That Doggie In The Window song that we all grew up on, that should be a precursor to the fact that there should be no “How much is that doggie in the window”. That’s wrong. What it should be is “What dog needs a home?” It’s a whole different thing.

So become a surrogate home for a temporary amount of time to an animal. See what those responsibilities are. See what those limitations are. Do it for a while so that an animal is not in a refuge and is being socialized and given a good quality life before it’s adopted. Just try it out for a while. Give yourself an opportunity to really see what it’s about before you make a decision that’s a commitment for eight, 10 years of your life or something, that you may think now you’re okay with, but you don’t know where you’re gonna be in five years, you don’t where your gonna be in eight years. You don’t know where you’re gonna be living, you don’t know where you’re gonna be working. You might move to another country. You don’t know who you’re gonna be in a relationship with. Everything might change around you and you may not want that responsibility anymore.

So those are the things that I think we need to do as citizens. I think we need to ask those questions, do a little mental checklist, and then realize what we want to do when it comes to another sentient being or animal or anything in our lives.”

Advantage Of Doing Business In A Small Pond

“It’s funny ’cause I don’t see much Montreal as an underdog city. I prefer the term small pond. There’s advantages to being in a small pond. The advantage is if you’re a big fish in that small pond, well, you’re still a big fish if you go to New York of if you go to Toronto. No matter where you go and you go speak with those other big fish, well, you’re their equivalent. You’re the big fish here, therefore, you have their respect.

You’re not trying to be the big fish in New York, you’re not trying to be the big fish in Toronto. You’re the big fish where you are. So when you go somewhere else, that big fish and this big fish get together and they talk. I learnt that doing trade shows for over 10 years in the clothing industry. Montreal is just a market, it’s a place.

Now small ponds, what’s cool too is because it’s small, but because it’s so dense and so many people are involved in so many of the same things, it forces people to have a really strong sense of community. But in a big pond, there’s twice as many people doing the same thing, you’ve got the same kind of layout, but there’s a lot more people cutting each other’s throat and doing everything because it’s really about survival of the fittest.”

Sterling Downey Verdun City Councillor

“I’m Sterling Downey. I’m a city councilor. I am the deputy mayor of the city of Montreal. Some of the files that I’m involved in in politics as the city councilor, I sit at City Hall downtown. I am also vice speaker of the House of City Hall. So when the president doesn’t preside over council, I preside in her place. I am the co-founder of the Under Pressure international graffiti festival in Montreal. I am a guy who has my hands, or had my hands involved in many, many different things in Montreal throughout the 90s ’til about now.”