Occupiers have found a friend in Richard Bergeron. On Wednesday evening, the Projet MontrÃ©al leader and city councillor stopped by Victoria Square, the site of Occupy Montreal demonstrations since Oct. 15, with words of encouragement and a pledge to represent their rights at City Hall.
Dressed casually in a white sports jacket and jeans, Bergeron listened to the occupiers’ concerns and took questions from a group of 15 or so protesters huddled around him in the camp’s media tent.
“I am trying to convince the party currently in power [Union MontrÃ©al] that you do not represent a danger,” he told them in French. The city’s fear, he continued, is that the demonstration will slowly expand across Montreal.
Upon leaving the tent, he was persuaded to speak to the protesters at their general assembly. He spoke to the crowd in front of the statue of Queen Victoria, which has been adorned with a Guy Fawkes mask and covered in posters.
Bergeron rattled off a list of demands that protesters had made during his visit: to have toilets that are changed every day, around 1,000 watts of electricity, a propane tank for the kitchen, and to not be forced to leave by police officers. “Simple things, really,” he added, pledging to write to City Hall to request them on the protesters’ behalf.
Bergeron had been invited to Occupy Montreal a few days before at City Hall. During the monthly open question period, one protester, Jamie Richardson, asked that the city of Montreal re-establish electricity at the Square, since it had been turned off. Before she was refused, Bergeron spoke in favour of her request.
“You are the pride and the dignity of Montreal,” he told the crowd on Wednesday, to loud whoops and cheers.
“I was doing the same thing 30 years ago, when I was the same age as most people here, when we wanted to change the world,” he said in an interview. “Was my generation able to accomplish that? Unfortunately, not in the way I had hoped.” That’s why, he said, the generation currently holding down the fort at Victoria Square absolutely has to institute change, because it may be the last chance to get back on the right track.
“The essential question that is being asked here is: where is the wealth that was supposedly created over the past 30 years?” Bergeron said. “Public institutions and bodies are in trouble, the middle class are having a hard time of it, poverty continues to progress, yet it would seem that we are twice as rich!”
At the same time, he continued, “The movement is a reflexion on the global level on what we have done to our world in the past 20 or 30 years, and get back on the right track for the next 20 or 30 years.”
Bergeron hopes that reflection will lead to a series of changes in the legal and financial systems, but added that the protesters need to find a common cause, while maintaining the diversity of the movement.
“The movement has to find a common denominator. Personally, I propose that we look to [re-emphasize] the collective as opposed to the individual, to live life as a society instead of putting the individual on a pedestal,” he offered.
What’s more, he said, the movement “can’t just end in a month.”
“[People here] will have to last the winter, which is not going to be easy!” he laughed.
The councillor joined the ranks of other political figures who have visited the site since Oct. 15, including Parti QuÃ©bÃ©cois MNA FranÃ§ois Rebello, QuÃ©bec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir and NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice.