Late last month, a group of Côte St. Luc seniors performed The Wizard of Oy, a rewrite of the Wizard of Oz, and the producer was Mitchell Brownstein, who happens to be the city’s mayor.
Brownstein has a passion for theatre, and in 2011 as a city councillor, was instrumental not only in setting up the Côte St. Luc dramatic society, but also taking an active part in several of its shows, both acting and producing.
Needless to say, Brownstein, 56, a lawyer and father of three, loves his town and was acclaimed mayor last year to replace former Anthony Housefather, who was elected as Liberal MP for Mount Royal. In that context, Brownstein gave up his role as a lawyer with Brownstein and Brownstein – the practice he ran with his brother Herbert – and turned over his clients to his son Andrew. He is proud
to say he is and intends to remain a full-time mayor.
Brownstein père is used to being acclaimed – that’s the way things often work in the cozy and comfy atmosphere of municipal politics.
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Now, however, he’s got a battle on his hands, from none other than the former mayor, Robert Libman.
And yet, they were friends and colleagues at one point, Brownstein having been elected for a first time in 1990, and Libman, acclaimed as mayor in 1998, then serving as borough mayor of Côte-Saint-Luc-Hampstead-Montreal West three years later after island-wide mergers.
When these towns demerged – Brownstein co-chaired the demerger committee – he was re-elected in 2005 and acclaimed as mayor in 2016.
The job pays about $75,000, including committee work and his expense allocation – not a huge amount for a lawyer in the latter stages of mid-career – but Brownstein, who lives, across the street from Pierre Elliott Trudeau park, has no complaints.
He was beaming when we met outside his house. In response to a question, Brownstein said he was surprised that Libman is running for the mayor’s job. Other than saying, “It’s a democracy,” he declined further comment.
According to Brownstein, Libman often consulted him while he was the town’s chief magistrate, as did former mayor Anthony Housefather, now the Liberal MP for Mount Royal, who defeated Conservative candidate Libman in the 2015 federal election.
Brownstein is proud to name Pascale Déry, who ran against Libman for the Conservative nomination, as being among his supporters.
He rattled off names of other members of the town’s burgeoning Sephardic community to demonstrate that he has broad support, as well as among those who voted for the Conservatives, or New Democratic Party in that election. He also is proud that such prominent Liberals as former justice minister Irwin Cotler, former Quebec revenue minister Lawrence Bergman, MP Housefather, and Miriam Lang, the widow of former mayor Bernard Lang, have endorsed him.
“I wouldn’t call it anything but the general community at large, in particular all leadership that’s respected in our community, reflecting all parties, support me as doing a good job as mayor,” he said.
Since he’s only been mayor for a year and a half he says he can claim to be an agent of “change.”
During his tenure, Brownstein cites the fact he negotiated three collective agreements, as well as pay equity and the pension plan associated with these contracts, resulting is a “sense of teamwork” among the staff. “The whole city is supporting me— part of one united team,” he enthused.
“That’s what I’m all about, creating positivity – a situation where we can provide services, facilities, and programming that allow individuals to find opportunities in the community to find happiness.”
When it comes to taxes, Brownstein insisted the city has “the best services on the island of Montreal. We’re all very proud of it and our residents want us to maintain that — so we’re not cutting services or programs.” The good news, he says, is that Côte St. Luc will be paying $4.8 million less over the next three years for services from the central city of Montreal – “the first reduction that we’ve got since we demerged.”
“We’ve certainly lowered our tax burden, and now we can lower our tax rate, or at least not ask for a major tax increase.”
He also points to a $1.9 million surplus this fiscal year. “Both are good news for our city and I don’t see anyone taking a rabbit out of a hat to do better.”
Taxes are still the third highest on the island, partly the result of union contracts being boosted after the mergers, but with these latest developments, Brownstein says he hopes it can move down the list to “fourth or fifth highest.” As for his chances of being re-elected, Brownstein says: “Robert was here trying to sell the Tremblay ticket and stay in the mega city, and our community just did not want that, and they have long memories.
“That was 2005. Maybe if you’re 30 years old it doesn’t mean that much to you, but anyone older remembers it well.
“Yes, he was against the merger before it happened, but once he ended up on (Mayor Gérald) Tremblay’s executive committee all of a sudden he became in favour of staying in the mega-city.”
He conceded that once Côte St. Luc demerged, it did not have all the powers it wanted, but added “over time we got them.”
Though he lost in the 2015 Federal election, Libman did well in majority Jewish Côte St. Luc, in part because of Stephen Harper’s unequivocal support for Israel.
Brownstein doubts this will translate into support for Libman at the municipal level.
“When I go to the doors and speak to people, they say, ‘he ran on the Harper ticket and we voted for Harper, but now we really love what you’re doing Mitch’, or ‘there are reasons why we can’t vote for Robert’. Either they like the work that I do or they don’t want him to win.”