Good-bye to Harold Heft: at 50 years young he leaves us too soon

It is always particularly difficult to learn about the passing of someone you have known most of your life. Such was the case this week when Harold Heft lost his year and a half battle with a brain tumour. He was only 50 years young, happily married and the father of two.

While Harold moved to Toronto a number of years ago, we always stayed in touch. He grew up in Côte Saint-Luc as a close friend of my younger brother Chuck and as such he was at the house very often. Harold travelled in the same circles as us - the son of Ruby and Eddie and the brother of Joel and Richie. What I remember most is his happy go lucky nature - always smiling, with his trademark dimple and absolutely full of laughs and personality. We called him "Hefty boy!"

Harold became a very prolific writer, penning his own book and often gracing the pages of different newspapers. He also carved a successful career for himself as a fundraiser in the health sector. The last time we actually sat down face to face and talked was at his dad Eddie's shiva three years ago. Emails followed, but that all stopped when he fell ill. I reached out to him via friends and family, but he was not in the frame of mind to communicate back and forth with the endless array of people trying to reach out.


Below is a beautiful obituary which appeared in The Montreal Gazette. Rest in peace Hefty!

From an early age, Harold Heft understood the unpredictability of life and therefore how important it is to preserve and share our stories. At age 10, he had lifesaving open-heart surgery and spent a summer convalescing while friends went to camp. That episode made a deep impression, and made many future experiences over the ensuing 40 years all the more sweet. 

In February, 2014, Harold was suddenly diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. With enormous courage and determination he faced a daunting prognosis and grueling medical treatment. Despite his valiant efforts to beat terrible odds, on July 23, 2015 Harold died peacefully in his home, surrounded by those who loved him most. 

Harold was born in Montreal on November 19, 1964, to Ruby (née Lenet) and Edward Heft, Z"L. 
He attended Wagar High School in Côte Saint-Luc, and then took three degrees in literature: a BA from McGill in 1987, an MA from Université de Montréal in 1989, and a PhD from Western in 1994. (Those who knew his playful sense of humour can almost hear him say: "I took the degrees, sure, but I also worked hard for them.")

After an appointment as Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at the Halbert Centre, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he started what would become a highly successful career as a senior fundraising and communications professional at University of Toronto (Faculty of Engineering), Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Hospital for Sick Kids, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and North York General Hospital. Throughout his career he built new, innovative programs to engage major philanthropy, always looking for the best way to "tell the story" of the causes for which he worked tirelessly. He knew if the story moved minds and hearts, people would act with generosity, and the world might be a better place. Harold also loved to bring people together. He inspired and mentored various young professionals and was unfailingly generous about making connections for friends and colleagues. Even in the last months of his life, he was helping people find jobs and offering career advice.

A continuous strand of his own story was his writing, editing and publishing. He published three books: On Your Mark: Getting Better Grades Without Working Harder or Being Smarter (published as The Savvy Student in the U.S.); Build a Better Book Club; and The Shape of This Dying: Remembering Alexander Bercovitch. Over the past year he was co-editing a new book of collected personal stories of trauma and transformation, work on which continues. 

He also published many poems; articles and reviews on new and established Canadian and international writers; jazz, rock, folk, blues and pop music; science and neurology; and of course, on baseball and in particular, his beloved Expos. His work appeared in The Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette, National Post, Toronto Star, Tablet, Jewish Daily Forward, among many others.

Harold believed strongly in tikkun olam, the Jewish tradition of helping 'to heal the world'. In addition to serving on the Board of Writers' Trust of Canada, New Israel Fund, Harold Green Theatre, and the Advisory Board of the Max and Beatrice Wolfe Children's Grief Centre, Harold was a counsellor at Camp Erin, a summer camp for bereaved children. He volunteered for 10 years at Holy Blossom Temple on the Out of the Cold program, rarely missing a shift. Even while an outpatient at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre he volunteered weekly in the library of Holland Bloorview Children's Rehab Centre.

Harold was predeceased by his father Edward and is survived by his mother, Ruby Heft, the two of whom were married over 50 years; his beloved wife of 16 years, Suzanne, and his sons Sam and John, to whom he was completely and absolutely devoted; by brothers Joel (Rachel), Richard (Martha) and nephews Jared, Ross, Jacob and A.J.; by mother-in-law Viviane Decker, and brothers-in-law David Mitchell (Jenny) and Chris Mitchell. He will be deeply missed by those who loved him and by a core group of friends, far and wide, whom he also considered "family." 

Although he lived in Toronto for many years, he was a Montrealer to his core and his favourite journey was crossing the bridge back to the island of Montreal that he called home.

Sincere thanks to the medical teams at the Gerry and Nancy Pencer Brain Tumour Centre and the Temmy Latner Palliative Care Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, as well as Ashlee and Jonathan and all those compassionate care-givers who helped care for Harold at home.

Funeral will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 26, 2015 at Holy Blossom Temple, 1950 Bathurst Street. Interment at Holy Blossom Temple section of Pardes Shalom cemetery. Shiva immediately following and through to Thursday at 64 Oriole Road 2:00-4:00 p.m. and 7:00-9:00 p.m. (Prayers at 8:00 p.m.). In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Harold's memory to the McGill University Library, c/o Donation Records, 1430 Peel Street, Montréal, QC H3A 3T3 (514)-398-2787.

Fifty years was not long enough for us to have Harold in our lives, or indeed for Harold himself to tell his full story. In his book The Shape of this Dying he wrote a poem about driving back to Montreal with painter Alexander Bercovitch's great-granddaughter after attempting to see a Bercovitch painting at the National Gallery. The poem begins: "You and I are finally silent. / The highway is linear and automatic and / we are lost in the knowledge that / this one journey will end / before we can find even one more / of the stories." 



CSL adopts $65 million 2014 budget

Congratulations to Côte Saint-Luc City Councillor Dida Berku, Treasurer Ruth Kleinman, City Manager Tanya Abramovitch and their team for putting together a stellar 2014 budget.

Traditionally the budget is adopted in December. However, we cannot do so until the Agglomeration Council has gone through its process. That was delayed due to the November elections.

Our $65 million budget is significant in that the average increase in taxes for single family homes is 0.9 percent, equal the Canadian rate of inflation.


With Councillors Glenn J. Nashen and Dida Berku. 


Councillor Berku has overseen each one of our budgets since we demerged from the Montreal mega city. That responsibility now transfers to Councillor Steven Erdelyi. As Mayor Anthony Housefather noted, the entire council had a hand in preparing this budget as we went through several drafts over the last few months. Since we all have portfolios, it was our responsibility to ensure our assigned areas were on the right course. Thanks to an excellent management team, we came through with flying colours.


“We adopted a budget that controls costs and maintains all our public services across the city,” Mayor Anthony Housefather said.
. About 42.8 percent of all taxes collected by Côte Saint-Luc are transferred to the island-wide regional government, which funds services such as police, fire, and public transit. 

 The property tax bills will be sent to homes in mid-February. The deadline to pay property taxes has been set at March 28 for the first installment and June 27 for the second installment.

 “As a responsible city administration sensitive to the financial constraints of our taxpayers we made every effort to meet our target and hold the tax increase to less than 1 percent – with no increase in water tax – all in line with the increase in the cost of living,” said Councillor  Berku. 

 Budget and tax highlights include the following:

  • Average increase in taxes for single-family home valued at $572,300: 0.9 percent
  • No increase in water tax and non-residential tax
  • Increase in revenues (due to growth in property roll): 1.46 percent
  • Revenues from property taxes: 86 percent
  • Revenues from local improvement taxes: 0.22 percent
  • Revenues from compensation in lieu of taxes: 2.48 percent
  • Other revenues (eg, program fees, memberships, etc.): 11.3 percent
The three-year capital expenditures plan was adopted at a public meeting on December 16, 2013. Approximately $8 million in capital expenses is anticipated in 2014.

I have included our powerpoint presentation which takes you through the budget highlights.

Download 2014 Budget Presentation - Public Final Version 6

Tax increase the fault of the Agglo

Property owners in Côte Saint-Luc received their tax bills this week after our elected council adopted the 2010 budget. This process was delayed as the  Agglomeration Council, headed by Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay, once again stuck it to the suburban municipalities which demerged from the mega-city four years ago. Some gratitude! Tremblay would not have his job if it were not for the suburbs.

Côte Saint-Luc council and administrative staff did extensive work to trim costs wherever possible and achieved a 0.7 percent decrease in the average residential property tax bill for the local portion of the bill controlled by the municipality. Unfortunately, despite the decrease in taxation for local spending, there was an overall increase of 4.9 percent in the average residential property tax bill because of the dramatic increase of 11.2 percent in the bill Côte Saint-Luc will be charged for island-wide services by the Montreal agglomeration council.

"We are proud that due to our careful planning and prudent fiscal management, residents will see a tax decrease on the local portion of the Côte Saint-Luc budget," Mayor Anthony Housefather said. "Unfortunately the average residential property tax bill will rise 4.9 percent this year due to the dramatic increase in the cost of island-wide services. We opposed the Montreal budget that imposed these increases and continue to believe that in this recessionary environment, any increase in taxes beyond the cost of inflation is unacceptable and grossly unfair. We have done our utmost to mitigate the effect on our residents by our local cuts and are pleased that our average tax increase on a residential property is less than the average tax increase for an average property within the City of Montreal and most other neighbouring municipalities."

Côte Saint-Luc is responsible for delivering local services, such as snow clearing, library and recreation services, road and sidewalk resurfacing, aqueduct repairs and much more. It is also responsible for delivering emergency medical services on its territory The island-wide Agglomeration of Montreal (Agglo)  is funded by 16 municipalities—including Côte Saint-Luc—and is responsible for delivering island-wide and regional services such as public transit, fire services, police services, water treatment. Côte Saint-Luc collects property taxes on its territory and pays the Agglomeration of Montreal for island-wide services.

The 2010 Côte Saint-Luc budget totals $56.9 million representing $31.2 million for local services and $25.7 million to pay the Agglomeration of Montreal for island-wide services. While the cost of local Côte Saint-Luc services has increased by just 0.52 percent compared to 2009, the bill for island-wide Agglomeration services has increased by 11.2 percent. Yes, this is not fair! Our mayor and his colleagues are not taking this sitting down. They will take this to the provincial government. If you are unhappy as a taxpayer then tell your local MNA from D'Arcy McGee, Lawrence Bergman.

"The first installment for taxes is due is March 1 and the second on May 31.

Again this year, the Côte Saint-Luc city council and management team used a strict budget process used in the private sector. Instead of using historical budgets as a base and adding to it, a form of zero-based budgeting was used where every department function was reviewed comprehensively and all expenditures had to be justified. This budgeting process allows city council and the management team to allocate resources more efficiently as it is based on real needs and priorities, allows for better understanding of overall budgets, encourages managers to find cost effective ways to improve operations, and complements the city’s objectives of financial accountability.

Just as the operating budget allows short-term planning and control of current operating needs, the capital expenditures budget is a tool to aid long-term planning and control of long-range and capital needs, such as road and sidewalk replacement, sewer replacement and repairs, repairs to municipal buildings, upgrades and improvements to parks, pools and equipment, replacement and upgrade of municipal vehicles.

The city council also approved the three-year capital expenditures budget on December 16, 2009. The budget is $23.5 million in 2010, $6.9 million in 2011 and $6.7 million in 2012. The City of Côte Saint-Luc will continue to maximize the use of grants for capital expenditures such as the PRECO, the new Gas Tax and FCCQ grants available by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. The Intergenerational/Aquatic Centre has been identified as a possible project for 2010 costing approximately $18 million. Côte Saint-Luc has submitted an application for funding of $11.5 million to Ministry of Municipal Affairs (MAMROT) to cover two-thirds of the cost of the project. The municipality is waiting for a positive reply from MAMROT before making a decision to proceed.

What to do about the budget?

Normally at this time of year, Côte Saint-Luc city council would have adopted its budget. However we remain in a holding pattern because of the City of Montreal.

Here is a press release issued today by the Association of Suburban Mayors, which best describes the situation.

On Wednesday January 13th, City of Montreal taxpayers will learn how much the Tremblay administration proposes to increase their property taxes for 2010. At the same time, Montreal Island suburbs will also finally discover the details of proposed increases in their contribution to regional services, increases which will translate into substantial hikes in their residents’ tax bills. Regional spending includes things like police, fire protection, mass transit, water management, and so on.


Even at this late hour, Montreal’s suburban “partners” who contribute to these regional costs have been told simply that their contribution will go up by roughly 13%. They are still in the dark about how this number was arrived at. What is clear is that these alarming increases are driven by one thing: runaway spending by the City of Montreal. Since the birth in 2006 of the “Agglomeration Council” where City of Montreal representatives rubber stamp regional spending over the objections of suburban mayors, such costs have ballooned by over three times the rate of inflation.


For example, in 2006, fire protection costs according to Montreal’s audited financial statements amounted to $264 million. The 2009 Budget called for fire protection spending of $304 million – a 15% increase. Inflation over the same three year period was only 5%. Mass transit costs were $321 million in 2006, but rose to $371 million in the 2009 budget: a 16% increase. Police costs went from $476 million to $567 million during the same period: a 19% increase. While there were some offsetting new police revenues, costs still rose far more than the rate of inflation.


If one removes the costs for arterial roads – which were returned to local municipalities to manage – overall regional spending went from $1,776 million to $2,067 million in three years: a 16.4% increase that is over three times the rate of inflation.


“All signs point to a continuation of this penchant for spending increases well over the rate of inflation when Montreal tables its 2010 Budget,” said the president of the Association of Suburban Municipalities, Westmount Mayor Peter F. Trent.


“Residents across the island will see the suburban mayors vigorously contesting these spiraling costs that will lead to tax hikes that no one can afford in this recessionary climate,” commented  Côte-St-Luc Mayor , Anthony Housefather.