Reconciliation top of mind as Montreal welcomes most diverse city council to date
Dominique Ollivier is about to become the second most powerful elected official in Montreal.
The Haitian-born Montrealer has just been named president of the city's executive committee.
“I’m up for the challenge,” she declared. “If you want to diversify your workforce, you should start at the top.”
Ollivier is the first Black woman ever to be given the honour, but what excites her most aren't her own achievements -- it's the fact that she won't be alone.
This city council is the most diverse that Montreal has ever seen.
“We’re going to be tackling power struggles. We’re going to be tackling privileges. We’re going to be tackling lots of issues," she said. "And hoping that, by not being only one person carrying that burden, the conversation is going to go more smoothly.”
With 30 years of experience in project and organizational management, Ollivier boasts a degree in engineering and a Master's degree in public administration from the École Nationale d'Administration Publique.
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She says when she learned that another Inuit homeless person had died in the cold, she committed herself to making sure there is a permanent solution for the Raphael Andre Memorial Tent, a warming station that protects up to 300 homeless people a day in Cabot Square.
“You have a lot of people who are ready to take action, and I think that’s the combination of both the political will and the availability of candidates and their willingness to go forward and risk it all,” she said. "We’re talking about the future of Montreal. We’re not talking about being Black, we’re not talking about being discriminated, we’re talking about our visions for Montreal.”
The city councillor for Vieux-Rosemont in Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie insists she wants all her decisions to be made with cultural sensitivity.
“You need to empower them, you need to help them, it can’t just be a one model fits all,” she pointed out.
It's a similar aspiration that drove Alia Hassan-Cournol -- the first Arab woman elected to council -- to politics.
“As an immigrant who arrived on Mohawk territory in Tiohtià:ke I feel I have a responsibility to help,” she said. “We will be able to make decisions that are not only made for the elite, but for marginalized people. For the single mom, for the Black person always being scared of racial profiling, for homeless people, for young students, for immigrants... We’re going to make decisions that affect the most marginalized.”
French-Egyptian by birth, Hassan-Cournol moved to Quebec in the late 2000s.
As a political scientist, she specializes in immigration and public policy issues, most notably with organizations that defend the rights of girls, women of diversity and Indigenous women.
“We make decisions that I think are more inclusive in the sense that we feel the people," she said. "We have that almost physical sense of what people are going through. Everybody on council, whatever the party is, is ready to fight systemic racism.”
The city councillor for Maisonneuve-Longue-Pointe in the borough of Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve adds centring decisions and services around the needs of the most marginalized are the only way to level the playing field.
“We’re going to have decisions that affect marginalized people, that are good for them, but by ripple effect are good for everybody, you know?" she said. "Put the marginalized person at the centre. This is intersectionality and that’s exactly what I want to bring to council -- and it is time to do it.”
Hassan-Cournol notes it's about time City Council was more diverse.
“It’s a message of hope. It’s a message of inclusion and it’s what makes Montreal a great city," she said. “Politics has always been for the same people, but it was time for politics to enter the communities -- and mostly for the communities to enter politics.”
Ollivier adds what is truly great is this power to break the glass ceiling.
“We’re going to get a lot of new voices that will be given the means of realizing the city they’re dreaming of and for me, that’s really powerful,” she said.
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