Things are going well for Robert Libman: he has parlayed his experience as a McGill trained architect, language rights activist, successful politician at the provincial and municipal level, and community activist into a flourishing career as a real-estate consultant.
But the political “bug” is still there. He wants his old job back and is running hard to unseat incumbent mayor Mitchell Brownstein in Côte Saint Luc.
He’s not just looking for more work. His day job now is in-house consultant on zoning and urban planning with Olymbec, the private firm run by Derek and Richard Stern. It owns and manages a range of properties in Canada and the U.S.
“I work with the architectural teams to define the parameters of the project, to make sure that its urban integration makes sense,” he said.
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“It’s my bread and butter, my passion, I love it!”
If elected, he plans to continue at Olymbec, probably reducing his hours, but, as he conceded, he wants to be back in politics
Some might wonder why. He’s 56, married to Joanne Shapiro, his three sons are growing up, the eldest, who’s 27, is about to move out, he tools around town in a black BMW SUV, and he’s recovered from the tough federal election campaign of 2015 when he lost as a Conservative candidate against Liberal Anthony Housefather in Mount Royal.
“When you’re out of politics you sort of miss being part of the action, the debates, the intensity of it, and being able to say something of import, and have it reported.”
The political life has its ups and downs and it was a big “up” when he won in 1989 in d’Arcy McGee, the Liberal’s safest seat in National Assembly. He was the youngest of the four Equality Party MNAs in that wave of protest against language law restrictions.
This will be his sixth campaign, which does not include a tough nomination battle in Mount Royal when the party establishment backed broadcaster Pascale Déry.
Though he ran for the Conservatives federally, Libman says he wanted to “reward” then leader Stephen Harper for his unequivocal support for Israel. On other issues, Libman says he’s a fiscal conservative, progressive on other issues.
In that regard, he is quite proud of his role over the years on housing for seniors, including those with limited incomes. When he was mayor, he also was executive director for Quebec of B’nai Brith and was involved in laying the groundwork for B’nai Brith House senior residence.
“I set up the committee,” he said with pride, and was involved in setting up a second facility, Château B’nai Brith, now under construction.
On the older buildings around Kingsley and Trent, many of which are “de facto” senior residences, Libman wants to work with the fire department to persuade owners to install sprinkler systems, pressurize stairwells, and establish evacuation programs to minimize the risk in case of fire.
On urban planning issues Libman says he is better placed to provide leadership. Though a deal is in the works to develop the Cavendish Blvd. extension, he thinks “it needs a champion.”
He also wants to focus as mayor on the 22 million square feet of land that could be developed, that is the CP rail yards – “an industrial wasteland in the heart of Côte Saint Luc.”
CP’s initial reaction was to reject the “master plan” project proposed by urban-planning graduate students at McGill, with Libman’s tutelage, for a residential development there.
Since CP owns “a ton of land” in south-shore Les Cèdres, one of his main objectives as mayor would be to “work with CP to persuade it to relocate its rail operations off the island.”
He enthuses that a large development in the town’s heart “would be almost a green environmental design laboratory for new technologies.”
Development there would expand the town’s tax base, part of a strategy to reduce the tax burden, among the highest on the island. He wants to implement energy-saving greener technologies in the 22 buildings the town owns and operates.
“These buildings should not be lit up like Christmas trees overnight – examples of where we can save without really compromising services.”
The town should start transitioning to electric from gasoline-powered vehicles – examples of how his experience in energy efficiency is a plus, he argues.
“It might cost as little bit more upfront in the short term, but over ten or 15 years will generate considerable efficiency.”
He wants transparency at City Hall by introducing smart-city technology, enabling residents to follow-up on a complaint on their computer or smartphone.
As far as his chances of unseating Brownstein, Libman says he has a strong organization and data from the federal election, most of which is still valid.
“I had a very strong showing in Côte Saint Luc in the federal election. A lot of people wanted me to win and those people are still very devoted and committed.”
“It’s a question of getting the vote out –Politics 101.”