House of Writers |  A controversial reason to sell

House of Writers | A controversial reason to sell

One of the main reasons put forward by UNEQ to justify the controversial sale of the Casa de los Escritores -the end of the property tax exemption- would not have been an issue until at least 2027, he learned Press. And the historic building on Square Saint-Louis, opened in 1992 thanks to $600,000 of public money, could very well benefit from a new property tax exemption if it pursues its mission of promoting literature.

The Quebec Writers Union (UNEQ) has made the sale of its headquarters at 3492 Laval Street one of the “highlights” of its 2023-2025 action plan, a decision that sparked an outcry in the literary world. . Over the past few days, the union’s board of directors has been accused of having secretly ruled on the fate of the Maison des écrivains, without officially consulting the members.

To justify the sale, the management invokes not only the regular maintenance and expensive renovation works of the building, but above all the “high property taxes”.

“The exemption that had been obtained following a ruling by the Montreal Municipal Court is periodically reviewed, and its next interruption will considerably increase the tax bill,” UNEQ writes in a bulletin published on its website on December 15.

“We estimate today that property taxes could be as high as $70,000 to $80,000 a year,” the organization wrote in a statement sent to Press.

[Cette dépense] would represent between 6 and 8% of our budget, and between 35 and 40% of the total annual membership fee [en 2022].

Quebec Writers Union

However, no review of the exemption is planned for the next four years, the Québec City Commission (CMQ) confirmed to Press. “Unless there are major changes to the owner or user activities, the Commission does not have to review its 2018 decision before a period of 9 years,” or May 24, 2027, writes spokeswoman Isabelle Rivoal. in an email.

In 2018, the CMQ considered that the Maison des écrivains met the criteria of the Municipal Tax Law hosting “informative or educational activities for people who, as a hobby, want to improve their knowledge in the field of letters”.

New activities

Why is UNEQ throwing in the towel so quickly, now that the State of the Artist Lawadopted last June, gives you new collective bargaining powers?

“The distribution between offices dedicated to union activities comes into play, whose surfaces are expected to increase, and spaces reserved for the reception of the public, writes the UNEQ. The municipality may at any time proceed to re-liquidate the exemption when it is aware of or considers that the property no longer meets these requirements. »

However, the City of Montreal had no intention of requesting a review from the Commission municipale du Québec before the deadline, indicated to Press the administration of Mayor Valérie Plante.

In 2018, the City of Montreal did not oppose UNEQ’s exemption process. And nothing indicates that it will do so in 2027 if the House of Writers maintains its cultural vocation. However, the CMQ has the last word.

“There is a big difference between what the municipal administration is going to say and what the tax service does,” argues the lawyer Daniel Payette, a UNEQ representative who has advocated many times before the commission.

Defense or promotion?

UNEQ’s mission is at the center of a schism between its former leaders, eager to animate the Maison des écrivains, and its current administrators, focused on the trade union aspect.

In September 2022, the UNEQ Board of Directors approved the sale of its “parent company”. Under a preliminary agreement, it should join the Union des artistes on avenue De Gaspé, in a building that also houses the Quebec Musicians Guild.

“UNEQ has always had two mandates: the literary mandate and the mandate to defend the socio-economic rights of its members”, underlines Danièle Simpson, president of the association from 2010 to 2016.

What he got was bargaining power with publishers, and that’s great. But the government did not tell UNEQ to become a union focused solely on the needs of writers.

Danièle Simpson, president of the association from 2010 to 2016

According to lawyer Daniel Payette, a member of UNEQ, it is now unthinkable that the promotion of literature continues to be the “main use” of the Maison des écrivains, a condition prescribed by the Municipal Tax Law.

“We’re still close to 50-50,” he said. You only need to add one office and one employee, and you may lose the exemption. This creates an extremely precarious situation. The union, for example, will have to hire grievance officers, legal advisers and administrative staff, explains Payette.

Pierre Lavoie, general director of UNEQ from 1993 to 2010, is however convinced that the association can maintain its union activities at the Maison des écrivains – or teleworking – without sacrificing its cultural calendar. “The Émile-Nelligan room and the Bruno-Roy library are large spaces that have always allowed literary activities to take place,” he points out.

UNEQ’s union turn is a “radical, philosophical and cultural change” that requires the approval of the affiliates, argue 53 signatories – former administrators and writers such as Michel Tremblay, Gilles Vigneault and Joséphine Bacon – in a letter addressed to the Minister of Culture . , Mathieu Lacombe.

“What will happen to the scholarships that UNEQ receives from the three arts councils? [500 000 $ en 2022] And your ministry, if it emphasizes your union activities? they ask.

reassure members

Mayor Valérie Plante’s cabinet says it is “sensitive to the concerns of the community” and waits in veiled terms for UNEQ’s board of directors to reconsider its position.

“The building and the mission of the Maison des écrivains are at the heart of the identity of our cultural metropolis and we hope that the board of directors can quickly reassure its members about the future of its headquarters”, writes Catherine Cadotte. ., press officer for the Montreal mayor’s office and executive committee.

In an email sent to Pressthe Ministry of Culture says it remains “vigilant” and specifies that it will collaborate with the City of Montreal “if specific measures must be taken.”

Numerous members of UNEQ have written to the board of directors requesting that the issue of the sale of the Maison deswriters be placed on the agenda of the next extraordinary assembly, where the controversial union dues will be the subject of a new vote.

The UNEQ Board of Directors will meet on Tuesday, January 17 in the afternoon to study the “requests received” from its members.

From $335,000 to 2.4 million?

The House of Writers was purchased in 1990 for $335,000 and opened two years later. Montreal, Quebec, and Ottawa shared the cost of upgrading the building to the tune of $600,000, the equivalent of over $1 million today. The value of the historic building, free of mortgages, is estimated at 2.4 million by the city of Montreal. “Our first evaluations lead us to think that the value of the house on the market will be between $1,300,000 and $1,600,000,” UNEQ specifies in an email.

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