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Has the Westmount Municipal Association lost its way?

Poor AGM turnout merits some introspection on the part of the WMA

By Patricia Dumais

Edited on June 5, 2018

Over twenty years ago, on June 6, 1996, former Westmount mayor Peter Trent contributed an interesting article entitled Whence and whither the WMA? to the now defunct Westmount Examiner. In it, he briefly examined the history and workings of the WMA and its mandate. Lately one passage from that article stands out in my mind, “most evolution occurred in the ’70s and ’80s: prior to that, it (the WMA) was kind of an extension of Council”.

I now wonder if the WMA has come around full circle, returning to its prior mandate.

The WMA held its annual general meeting on May 23 in Victoria Hall with the smallest attendance in recent history. All told, only 40 or so persons attended the meeting. If you substract from that count the WMA board, the guest speakers, some former board members (including myself), the Derek Walker Volunteer of the Year awardee and her guests, the Mayor and a few councillors, you are left with a sprinkling of citizen-members.

The WMA held its annual general meeting on May 23 in Victoria Hall with the smallest attendance in recent history.

Where were the other WMA members?

It is unfortunate because the meeting was worth attending if mainly for Derek Walker Volunteer of the Year recipient Angela Murphy, long-time McEntyre Writing Competition chief judge, who gave an eloquent speech about volunteering, as well as a fine panel of speakers discussing Making Westmount an Accessible Community.

As a former Board member (2001-2017) and Secretary to the WMA (2005-2017), I have witnessed a sea change in the Association in the past decade.

In the middle part of the first decade of this century, the Association had a strong committed Board and a supportive paid membership of around 450 members. Attendance at AGMs neighboured in the 80 to 100-person range. At this year’s AGM, there was no traditional membership report but if one takes membership dues for 2017 into consideration ($354), dividing those by cost of membership (family memberships are $15; individual at $10) we are left with, at very most, 35 paid members!

What could be responsible for such a decline and lack of interest?

In my early years with the WMA, I recall its directors being very concerned about upholding impartiality when it came to municipal issues. So much so that when Westmount was faced with merger with Montreal and then de-merger, a unanimous Board vote sanctioned the WMA’s exceptional involvement. The Association would go on to play a very important role in assisting the city to inform and involve citizens on these issues.

‘In my early years with the WMA, I recall its directors being very concerned about upholding impartiality when it came to municipal issues.’

Unfortunately I have witnessed some of that impartiality gradually go by the wayside. Is it that some Board members do not understand the true mandate of the WMA?

And what is the true mandate of the WMA?

If you consult the WMA’s promotional flyer (printed in 2013), it states, “the Westmount Municipal Association (WMA) is a community-based organization independent of the municipal administration. The WMA is run by volunteers and acts as a non-partisan community link between citizens and City Hall”.

Also according to the flyer, one of the roles of the WMA is to “take a stand on public issues by examining all sides and advocating a course of action”.

If you look into the current Second Pool Project, the WMA has been very vocal in supporting the City. It organized a meeting, not to gather their member’s opinions about whether a second pool made sense, but rather to invite pool supporters to dream up their wish list, as if the pool was a fait accompli. This meeting only served citizens in favour of the pool and alienated everyone else. It is not the job of the WMA to take sides and divide people. And it is not the WMA’s job to be a cheerleader for city projects.

Furthermore, a needs analysis for a second pool has yet to be done. How could the WMA be so irresponsible in pre-emptively supporting a project that may not serve the best interests of the population?

‘No matter what the citizen concern… it should always be addressed… All issues should be treated in an objective, fair manner and followed up upon.’

Another role of the WMA, once again according to the flyer, is to “Assist citizens and groups who wish to bring issues to public attention”.

In the later years of my tenure, I have witnessed groups calling on the WMA for assistance only to be eventually ignored, with no follow-up to their concerns. No matter what the citizen concern, and some are more valid or serious than others, it should always be addressed, either by steering citizens to resources or, if need be, by addressing council with the concern. All issues should be treated in an objective, fair manner and followed up upon.

If it elects to serve only certain interest groups and ignore others then it certainly cannot claim to be a non-partisan community link between citizens and City Hall.

In the end, whom does the WMA serve?

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Feature image: Andrew Burlone

Read also: Westmount: The question of a second swimming pool


Patricia Dumais - WestmountMag.caPatricia Dumais is a 28-year resident of Westmount who has served on a number of community committees, including the WMA, the Association of Pedestrians and Cyclists of Westmount (APCW), the Westmount Healthy City Project and Centre Greene.

 

Stuart Weitzman Canada



There are 7 comments

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  1. Paul Marriott

    First of all, I’d like to thank the former board members who have commented here, for their service to the WMA and the wider Westmount community.

    Like most community organizations, the WMA is run be volunteers and, as there is an elected board of directors, it is the entire board that takes part in the decision making process. For every request for assistance received, the board careful weighed-up what, if anything, the WMA could do to help. The president of the WMA does not have executive authority so all who are on the board at any given time are responsible for the decisions made.

    The wider community may not be aware of the unreported work the WMA has taken part in. Some files were (and still are) quite sensitive, but we were able to exert the appropriate influence and make progress, albeit slowly in some cases. Other important work the WMA has been involved in includes representing Westmount in the Concertation Inter-Cartier – an association to look at the wider issues of the communities of Westmount, NDG and St Henri, particularly with respect to the Turcot and MUHC projects. Members of the public may also not be aware of the information sessions the WMA held to support the new candidates running for council and the mayoralty. That the “Meet The Candidates” events reached the fire limit of Victoria Hall is testament to an engaged community.

    The way the electorate interact with its elected representatives has radically changed in the past few years. Now a resident can fire off an email or tweet and expect their concern to be dealt with directly. In the past, the WMA would have been the conduit for access to council. People are more focussed on issues that affect them directly, whereas the role of the WMA is to consider the wider implications of issues and fight to improve process, rather than specifics. There is still much for us to do but our role has certainly evolved from the time that the WMA essentially selected the entire council and Mayor.

  2. Marilynn Gillies

    Like all associations, it will not hurt the WMA to look at areas for improvement. But I think that it is important to remember that the WMA is run by volunteers who mostly try their best to do a good job. It is not easy
    to try to go against city hall especially this city hall where as mentioned in a previous comment there has been virtually no opposition.
    We are also living at a time when all groups are finding it hard to recruit members. It does not necessarily reflect badly on the individual association. While giving ideas for improvement we should also be encouraging people to join the WMA and give support to it as it goes through a difficult time with membership.
    Marilynn Gillies
    Sent from my iPad

  3. Nigel Goddard

    Our freedom of speech allows for criticism of any organization be it a municipal association, city council, provincial or federal government. There are improvements that can be made to the organization to fit the needs of today. Demographics have changed and the needs of citizens have changed also. These are important realities that have to be addressed as the association faces new challenges. The WMA has had some notable successes lately, the meet the candidates night was very successful as attendance filled the hall to capacity. Some of the city councilors have been helpful and are interested in seeing future success in this organization. Thank-you for your letter. You raised some valid points.

  4. Mavis Young

    As a former WMA Board Member, I would support the author’s main thesis that the WMA as currently constituted, has indeed lost its way.

    The question of an indoor pool aside, over time a number of former members have become discouraged and resigned. I believe that the gradual failure of the WMA to define and implement a real mission as a non-partisan group focussing on transparency, accountability and efficiency in the delivery of municipal government services, has led to its erosion.

    In principle, the WMA should act as a watchdog, representing the interests of all local taxpayers, including businesses, who wish to bring issues to the attention of council and the public. This is particularly important in a small municipality where there is effectively no voice of opposition and for all intents and purposes councillors vote as one.

    Too frequently, even when matters have come before the board, there has been no follow up. A notable exception was the issue of the move of the Westmount Park dog-run when the WMA got its act together and enabled citizens to have a voice.

    In my opinion, if the WMA is to survive, it is going to have to redefine its purpose, find a way to demonstrate its value to citizens, develop a proper communications strategy, hold council to account where appropriate and generally let go of some of those cosy 1980 assumptions about how things are done in Westmount.

  5. Patricia Dumais

    In this article, originally published on June 2, I wrote the following, “If the WMA elects to… serve as a thinly disguised propaganda machine for City Hall…” That wording was inappropriate and so has been edited out from the article.

  6. WMA President

    I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at this article, or to simple sue for libel. Really, you think the WMA is now a propaganda arm of the City of Westmount? I think you also need to brush up on how the democratic process works. There is no point in discussing whether to have an indoor pool or not as that was already decided in last year’s election. The WMA’s continual role is to ensure residents get the best services for their tax money and, hence, a meeting to discuss what sort of pool should be built. Not “if” – this was already promised in the election. If you can’t understand the nuance, then I think I suggest you should talk to your district councilor who, by now, should understand this very well.

    I’m not sure what groups you’re referring to having been ignored. Perhaps you would so kind as to enumerate them here.

  7. Anne Streeter

    Bingo! This is precisely what we are experiencing in the Town of Mount Royal – low membership and lack of independence from Council – very discouraging. To add insult to injury we only have one independent Councillor – the others and the Mayor are on the same team and vote as one – always. I guess you could say we live under a dictatorship. Sad.


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