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Westmount--Ville-Marie spoilers like their chances

Lagacé Dowson talks with constituents Ginette Carrier and Carole Henelly

At press time it seems certain that the four byelections scheduled for September 8 will be canceled, and a general election called for October 14, following Thanksgiving weekend. Two Westmount—Ville-Marie candidates visited The Senior Times prior to the call, when it was still the only race in town, to talk in depth about policy differences and their shot at victory.

What emerged was a picture of unprecedented scale, presence and funding for the NDP and Green campaigns. Both have targeted the riding with an expectation of record gains, at the very least.

If there's any seat in Canada to which the Grits feel entitled without a fight, it's Westmount—Ville-Marie, red since 1962 under its former names and boundaries and home to institutions like Don Johnston and the departing Lucienne Robillard. But after the Liberals' 2006 slide to under 50% in the riding, and the stunning NDP upset in Outremont, massive resources are pouring into previously moribund campaigns, betting on the possibility of a protest vote — against the Opposition.

Much-hailed CROP and Léger numbers showing the Liberals and NDP neck and neck on the Island — at a dilute 18 and 19 percent respectively — make anything seem possible. "We saw what happened in Outremont with Thomas Mulcair last year, a supposedly untakeable Liberal bastion — it's a little bit the same kind of phenomenon," declares the familiar voice of CBC Radio Noon. "I think they have this feeling that all this time voting Liberal hasn't served them necessarily as well as they were hoping, especially with this last minority government — they voted Liberal and they've gotten a de facto Conservative majority."

If the sound is newly partisan, it's because that voice, Westmount's Anne Lagacé Dowson, has been freed from the bonds of journalism and thrown into the race on behalf of the New Democrats, aimed squarely at the Liberals' opposition record and the once-assured seat of former space chief Marc Garneau. On leave from the CBC as rotating guest hosts take her place, Lagacé Dowson puts forth a soaring critique of the Dion era: "The Liberals are not the party they once were. On 43 confidence motions they've absented themselves. People feel taken for granted by the Liberals — they didn't send them to Ottawa to pass Conservative legislation. The NDP is a party that's been steadfast in its resistance to the Harper agenda."

She discounts any concerns over splitting the federalist vote in the riding, citing Bloc candidate Charles Larivée's low-profile, barely existent campaign. She sees the meager Bloquiste vote (13% in 2006) as up for grabs and uses the phrase une perte de vitesse as an apt summation of their woes. The same lack of returns felt by longtime Liberal voters, she says, is felt among Bloc support, with a "sharing of progressive values" making her party the likely beneficiary.

On the environment, Lagacé Dowson argues that the NDP's Five-Point Green Agenda is "more all-encompassing" than the Liberals' Green Shift plan, but eschews the infamous Carbon Tax, which has been "a mixed success elsewhere" in reducing emissions. "Rather than going after people with less latitude to fix the problem," she says, the NDP Green Agenda puts the burden where it belongs — on polluters. The plan also calls for a transfer of one cent per dollar of the gas tax to municipalities, and the development of so-called "green-collar jobs" through funding and tax incentives.

Clearly more self-assured than the average neophyte, Lagacé Dowson makes the case that "journalists have made good MPs" and know how to listen. Their presentation skills are often above average as well. But what about actors? The spoiler to the spoiler is former Sirens star, current host of the cable series Regeneration: the Art of Sustainable Living, and Green Party deputy leader Claude William Genest, a veritable Gatling gun of eco-soundbites and, as a fifth-time candidate, the veteran of the race.

No "shackles and handcuffs to special interests" — Genest

No longer a contender for first Green MP, with Saturday's announcement of ex-Liberal Blair Wilson's jump to the party, Genest could nonetheless see such "momentum" — a term that comes up frequently — raise his chances even further in an especially Green-friendly area. "This is the greenest riding in Canada," he says. "Our highest numbers. Second place Green finish provincially. It's our biggest campaign in the history of Quebec, by orders of magnitude. We're the second choice of 50% of Canadians. We're the only party that's growing, nearly doubling every election. People respond to us," he professes, "because they see we're citizens looking to take responsibility, not politicians trying to take power."

With the Liberal Green Shift and the NDP Green Agenda on the table, have the Greens not been marginalized on their own issue?

"Everybody's green now. It's more of a green veneer on things." The Liberal plan, he maintains, is insufficient. "You can shift taxes till the cows come home. Without ending subsidies to Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Agriculture, you're still rewarding polluters and rewarding excess consumption. Scandinavians use one-third to one-half the energy per capita we do. Why? They're not better people. They've made policy choices that make them competitive. Why aren't we at those levels? Where was Liberal green policy all those years we fell behind?"

Genest's disdain extends left as well: "I'm so disappointed with the NDP," he says. "They take Thomas Mulcair, this supposedly great passionate advocate for the environment, and what do they do with him? They make him Finance Critic just to shut him up."

NDP policy neglects innovation in his opinion. Countering the notion of giant green bureaucracy, Genest overflows with market-oriented ideas that he urges those on fixed incomes in particular to consider simply for economy's sake. Green windows, lightbulbs and appliances are just a start. The slow adoption of hybrid technology is curious to him. "My Prius gets me 45 miles to the gallon. That's money in my wallet. People talk about investment when they really mean speculation — like the stock market. This is a real investment, with returns that are guaranteed, starting right away, aside from the ecological benefits." Genest also cites leadership in "net metering" initiatives elsewhere — Germany, California, and now Ontario and BC — which require electricity providers to purchase back power generated by customers who use solar and wind installations, which feed surplus electricity back into the grid, typically at night. "It's your meter literally spinning backwards. That's money in your wallet too. Why aren't we doing this everywhere?" he posits rhetorically. "In Germany, they have to buy it back at eight times the billing rate. And guess who has the highest rate of solar-generated power in the world now?"

Reducing consumption and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy isn't just an environmental imperative but a "tremendous economic opportunity," says Genest — and an alternative to mounting ecological costs, mounting waste, and further resource extraction that won't pay off for years. "It's more of the same," he insists with evangelical fervour, "versus pots of gold under our nose tomorrow! It takes policy choices. The Green Party doesn't have the shackles and handcuffs to special interests that keep it from happening."

Election day in Montreal will hinge on the recovery of the Liberal machine and its ability to get out the vote. For the Garneau campaign to match NDP and Green efforts in this respect is a tall order. Whatever the result, Westmount—Ville-Marie constituents can count on sending a star MP to warm the benches this October.

Polling station info will be available online at and tollfree at 800-463-6868.



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