McGill, Montreal, News

McGill student and professor host discussion with Peter-McGill Community Council director

A discussion featuring Stéphane Febbrari, the director of the Peter-McGill Community Council, and co-hosted by Megan Uderian, U3 Nursing, and Mary Anne Poutanen, a Concordia affiliate professor who teaches interdisciplinary courses on Quebec and Canada at McGill, took place on Oct. 25 over Zoom. The event was part of the “Montréal as seen by…” series put on by the Quebec Studies Program (QSP), the Quebec Studies Students Association (QSSA), the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal (CIRM), and the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC). 

The Peter-McGill Community Council is a bilingual non-profit organization that aims to assess and fulfill community needs through outreach, consultation, planning, and advocacy. Founded in December 2002, the Council represents a swath of downtown Montreal, including the Golden Square Mile, where McGill is located. Uderian asked Febbrari to explain the Council’s mandate at the beginning of the talk. Febbrari explained that the Council aims to bring people together, listen to the community, and pool resources to effect positive change. 

“Our main role is really to be a voice with no filters,” Febbrari said. “We are an independent group, we have different sorts of funding. So, when we listen to our residents, we try to channel their voice in advocacy to the city and health services or ministers.”

According to its website, the Council currently has committees dedicated to the needs of families, food security, immigration, urban development, neighbourhood life, seniors, and youth action. While the Community Council began as an organization primarily representing older residents and business owners in the neighbourhood, Febbrari said that it has since worked to include a more diverse range of voices. 

Febbrari stated that over 40 per cent of the neighbourhood’s residents are living below the government-set poverty line—although he noted that this number is somewhat skewed by international students, who often have unregistered sources of income. He explained that the Community Council has a number of initiatives and partnerships with local shelters and community organizations to help alleviate the burden families and individuals frequently face while trying to make ends meet. Febbrari also saw the problem worsen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a monthly market with […] products for the families for free, and […] food also,” Febbrari said. “Those markets started to really boom [during] COVID, and now we keep on developing around [them] because we were seeing a need.” 

In addition to food insecurity and the housing crisis, Febbrari touched on immigration, a lack of green space, and the climate crisis in his answers to Uderian’s questions. He also explained that the Community Council is part of a larger coalition that aims to facilitate communication between the different boroughs of the city. 

The “Montréal as seen by…” series hosts five to six events a year, all co-run by a McGill student, and aims to connect McGill students with the greater Montreal community. Poutanen, who has integrated the lecture series into her courses, finds the talks to be an important educational tool that exposes students to a variety of non-McGill perspectives from around the city.

“[The series] is offering an opportunity for students to meet people who look at Montreal and look at Quebec from different perspectives, as well,” Poutanen said during an interview with The McGill Tribune. “It can be somebody who teaches, who has a basketball program, it can be somebody who runs a virtual museum. It’s quite a diverse group of people who have a stake in the city and a stake in Quebec.”

Stéphan Gervais, scientific coordinator for the Quebec Studies Department, stated that the series is centred around practices of experiential and transformative learning.

“It […] goes back to learning about oneself really, learning about being an individual, being a citizen, being a Montrealer,” Gervais said. “We, in a very modest way, we try to make it easy for students, we try to offer them a possibility to get engaged.”

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