According to EMSB Chairman Joe Ortona, two issues should dominate both the city and the borough’s political future. But with less than three weeks to go before the city’s early November election, the clock is ticking and there’s not much hope that an overtime goal will save the day.

While the province’s politics usually doesn’t have much to do with a municipal election, Ortona believes the city’s municipal government should be aware that the government’s new language bill will become a seismic earthquake that will adversely (to put it mildly) affect what’s left of Montreal’s Anglo and Allophone communities in much the same way as the PQ’s Bill 101 effectively eviscerated the province’s once prosperous English-speaking communities that are now fading into distant memory. Briefly put, Ortona describes Bill 96 – the Legault government’s new language bill – as an onerous law that uses language as a pretext to destroy individual rights and freedom such as we know them.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “Not only will this bill affect how services are delivered to the city’s English-speaking minority, but it will also affect how services – including municipal services – will be delivered to language minorities throughout the province.”

As both a lawyer and as the Chairman of the EMSB (English Montreal School Board Ortona was originally considered to be one of the Coderre team’s (Ensemble Montréal) rising stars who could expect an easy win based upon the virulent anti-Plante sentiment that’s presently sweeping through the entire city’s west-end. As a newly-elected city councillor, Ortona could have easily expected a place on the city’s powerful executive committee if city mayor candidate Denis Coderre managed to win next month’s municipal election. Unfortunately, the former mayor’s political courage gave way to political expediency when Coderre lost his nerve and decided to throw Ortona under the bus rather than face the wrath of the language hawks who support Premier Legault’s language legislation.

“The truth is that it’s a discriminatory bill,” said Ortona. “The fact that they have to use the notwithstanding clause to protect the bill is an admission by the government that the bill is – in fact – discriminatory.”

During an exclusive interview, Ortona told ‘The Montrealer’ that he didn’t expect Coderre to react “…the way he did,” but once the story broke, he was even more surprised to see how so many people approved of what he had to say, of what he had done, after which many asked him not to drop out of the election.

“People kept writing me to tell me that they don’t have a voice in city hall,” he said. “Others said that it was nice to hear someone who shared their opinion and who wasn’t afraid to speak out about what’s really going on.”

By his own admission, Ortona said that he did not want to make any kind of impetuous decision as much as he wanted to take some time to think about it before he decided to stay in the race.

“As an independent candidate, I’ve managed to keep the language issue on the table,” he said, “…because people ought to have a right to know what every one of their candidates think about Bill 96.”

While he doesn’t have much time for incumbent Montreal mayor Valérie Plante’s whole-hearted support for the new language bill, he has even less time for the complacent attitude that defines what Coderre and the rest of Ensemble Montréal think about the Legault government’s new law. While some believe that the new bill won’t make much of a difference, Ortona believes that any state that will tolerate “…warrantless seizures of computers, smart-phones and any kind of business document,” is on a slippery slope towards a new authoritarian, if not totalitarian government.

“That’s simply not acceptable,” he said, “We have to let the government know that this law will harm the city, so that’s why I decided to keep my name on the ballot.”

Following a second question about borough priorities, Ortona said that the city must stop taking the CDN-NDG borough for granted after which it must get serious about returning its fair share of all the tax revenue that it pays out to the city. As an independent councillor, he believes that he will have the advantage in a split council because he now considers himself to be accountable to the district’s residents instead of having to tow the party line with everybody else.

“If elected, you can be sure that I will not accept to vote for a budget that will harm the borough’s interests,” he said.

On the plus side, he believes that every one of the people running for any one of the borough’s six seats on city council is well aware of the problem, and that they are all willing to work together to fix the issue.

“This is the kind of problem that will pull us together;” said Ortona,” …and that could be a good thing for everybody.”

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