Concordia Alum Running for Borough Mayor in Sud-Ouest

Cindy Filiatrault on Development, Community Engagement and Working with Mélanie Joly

Cindy Filiatrault left Concordia in 2008 with an undergraduate degree in honours sociology, earned while working full-time as a manager at the call centre of an international financial services company.

Today, the 36-year-old is running for mayor of Montreal’s Sud-Ouest borough under the banner of mayoral candidate Mélanie Joly’s party, Le vrai changement pour Montréal-Groupe Mélanie Joly.

“What’s happened in politics, what the conversation was about in the media, didn’t reflect what Montreal really is, the Montreal that I knew,” Filiatrault told The Link. “So it feels to me like what we want, what we need as a community of Montrealers is an administration that we can recognize ourselves in and that we can trust.”

And she is clearly ambitious.

“If you’re going to be making decisions about architecture, about development, why are we not building buildings that are going to be jewels in the Montreal skyline?” she asked.

Filiatrault will be running against another candidate for borough mayor with a connection to Concordia University—part-time professor and urban planner Jason Prince, who is representing the banner of municipal political party Projet Montréal in the race.

The Sud-Ouest borough is located, as the name suggests, southwest of Montreal’s downtown core. It stretches from Point-St-Charles and Griffintown in the east to Ville-Émard in the west, including much of the Lachine Canal and a collection of traditionally working-class neighbourhoods with Irish, Black and French-Canadian backgrounds.

Development in the Borough

Filiatrault spoke to The Link about some of the challenges the borough faces today.

“You’ve got lots of development coming to Griffintown, lots of new condos are being built,” she said. “But you also have areas like Ville-Émard, where there are sincere challenges about access to social services, where there is a lot of drug use.”

According to Filiatrault, “These two societies need to find a way to harmoniously coexist.”

“I think the Sud-Ouest is the most exciting borough of Montreal,” Filiatrault said, suggesting that the long-neglected part of the city is rife with opportunity. “There’s no one blanket solution for the entire borough that you could just lay overtop and say, ‘Okay, well, this is the recipe for how it’s going to work.’”

Nevertheless, Filiatrault spoke fondly about Notre-Dame St. W. in Little Burgundy. “Everybody knows Notre-Dame for Burgundy Lion,” she said. “That little strip is amazing. It’s a gem. We need more of that.”

Before completing her sociology degree at Concordia, Filiatrault had already spent years in corporate environments in Montreal and Toronto. “I’ve been working since the late ’90s in areas that affect workflow management, mostly software for either hiring applications, customer relationship or management tools,” she said.

“I think that my education in sociology from Concordia really helps me, but also my business experience,” Filiatrault continued. “A business is like a microcosm of a society. You’ve got all kinds of different personalities and competing agendas, and you need to manage change.”

If elected, one change Filiatrault says she would like to see is to have her borough’s abandoned industrial areas—like the Turcot rail yards and parts of St. Patrick St.—decontaminated and developed in partnership with the provincial and federal governments.

The Turcot yards in particular, near the intersection of highways 15, 20 and 720, “would be an optimal place to build a community if the land is decontaminated, and if it was an artery for public transit,” according to Filiatrault.

Engaging Citizens and Breaking Ground with a New Team

Another of Filiatrault’s proposals for the city, stemming directly from her experience in developing software for businesses, is a web platform modeled after that would allow residents to discuss issues relevant to them and “upvote” the best ideas.

Such a project, said Filiatrault, “would be all about community engagement [and] would allow issues to be separated from parties so that the real problems of society and the real solutions to those problems could emerge, and the people who have a real input into what positive change could look like—new thought leaders—could emerge.”

Filiatrault says she also supports Joly’s commitment to making the city’s data accessible to residents on the Internet. Filiatrault says an honest administration should have nothing to hide, and following through on this commitment would allow for “a constant, open public audit, at no cost to the taxpayer, with the phenomenal advantage of total civic engagement.”

It was through Joly that Filiatrault says she herself got engaged in politics. After leaving her last job, Filiatrault told The Link that she decided to devote herself to Joly’s campaign as a volunteer, explaining that they “travelled in similar circles.” Filiatrault says she later opted to run for office under Joly’s banner.

“[Joly] is somebody with a lot of integrity, and her platform is very simple and very practical,” said Filiatrault. “The more I learned about the platform, the more I learned about her personally; it just feels right.”

Filiatrault dismissed criticism of Joly and her slate of candidates as being too young and inexperienced.

“If you are of the old guard,” Filiatrault said, “then of course, you might look at a young person, a woman, somebody from a minority background, and say, ‘You lack the experience required to run the city.’

“We don’t have all the experience of years of running the administration, but to be honest, [past administrations] weren’t making decisions the same way I think somebody with a fresh perspective would make decisions,” she continued.

For those doing politics with the “old guard,” Filiatrault has words of warning.

“You become part of a machine that already exists,” she said. “And that machine has legacies, has made promises on your behalf that you may have to honour when you step in to fill those shoes. It takes good people with good intentions and, in the case of our past administrations, [politics] has really corrupted them,” she continued.

“I don’t want to be part of an existing machine. I think we need a new machine.”